Park spokesperson offers safety advice for Smokies visitors

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Reach, throw, or go. Those are the three steps to potentially saving a life according to employees of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

With cooler temperatures in the forecast, park employees are gearing up to welcome an influx of guests. Many of those guests may be planning to head to waterfalls and swimming holes, although it’s not recommended.

“Water recreation in the park is not recommended due to numerous dangers and hazards,” Jamie Sanders with the National Park Service said. “We do have numerous incidents every single year regarding water recreations whether it be tubers or hikers trying to navigate stream crossings.”

Park service employees explain that rising water can be a hazard even if you are just hiking.

“If you’re hiking in the park and you come across a stream or stream crossings, it’s important that you evaluate that stream and safely navigate that crossing,” Sanders said.

The park service says the best thing you can do before you head out is to be prepared. There are guidebooks at visitors centers across the park that include information on the difficulty level of trails and when you may come into contact with water.

The question remains what do you do if you or someone you know gets into a bad situation: Reach. Throw. Go.

“The first thing you would want to do is to reach out with them with a stick or pole or something to try and pull them back to shore. If that is unsuccessful, and then you would try to get a rope to throw at them or a personal floatation device in order to bring them to shore. The last-ditch effort would to actually go into the water and try to save them,” Sanders said.

If you fall into the water yourself, there is a way to potentially get out of the water on your own.

“Try to keep your feet pointed up,  lay on your back,  and keep your feet out in front, that way you can kind of navigate and avoid big boulders or anything and kind of work your way to the side,” Sanders said.

Waterfalls are a popular destination for park visitors as well, however, a warning to sightseers.

“Many people try to climb up the sides of the waterfall and get to the top. We’ve had numerous serious incidents and deaths that have occurred from people climbing up and we do not recommend people to attempt to get to the top of the waterfalls,” Sanders said.

An additional warning to those hiking to or around waterfalls is that the area around is misty and slick. Moisture and the algae on rocks around streams can be treacherous.

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