GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – There are nearly 100 search and rescue missions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year.
With the warmer weather, more people are likely heading outdoors in the Smokies and with more people in the park, there is a greater chance of one of these calls for help.
The park covers nearly a half million acres, most of which is not accessible by roads as Park Ranger Jared St. Clair pointed out.
“Most people nowadays have this idea that they can call 911 and there will be some sort of curbside service for them and we don’t have that. When you are on the trails, there are no roads that parallel the trails. How you go up is how we go up and bring them back down,” St. Clair said.
Still, miillions of people come here every year and there is always a risk of getting hurt.
“The idea that you are in a national park – sometimes that brings comfort that bad things won’t happen out here, and they do,” St. Clair added.
Most injuries in the park are lower leg and ankle injuries – things that can happen from a simple misstep. Matt Jernigan knows this all too well. He is an avid outdoorsman and is part of the Cack Country Unit Search and Rescue Team, or Busar, based in Knoxville.
Jernigan explains the team like this, “Busar is an all-hazard search and rescue team. We specialize in arduous tasks and missions, swift water rescues, anything off trail, technical rescue and winter ops.”
The team has only been around for a few years and already they have been critical in some of the most hazardous search and rescues in recent history, like the search for Austin Bohanan in the summer of 2017. He was missing for 11 days.
“It was so hot those days he was missing,” Jernigan explained. “And the terrain, the terrain in that area is some of the thickest and steepest in the park.”
More online: Learn more about Team Busar
St. Clair says the NPS appreciates the Busar team saying the park service doesn’t have the manpower and resources if a search and rescue mission lasts more than a day. That’s when outside teams get called in.
“The majority of rescue personnel that gets hurt is a result of not being physically fit enough for the environment that they are in,” he said. “So the fact that Busar combines fitness with specialized training make s this an easy call to make.”
Busar consists of 20 team members and they are all trained in grid searching, survival skills and swift water rescue, just to name a few. They also spend a lot of time staying in shape so they can pass a rigorous yearly fitness test. Jernigan stresses that even the most prepared person can find themselves in need of a rescue.
He said doing one simple thing can help you and rescue crews if you find yourself in an emergency.
“One of the best things you can do is leave a trip plan with somebody. – where you are going, who you’re with, with their experience level and what you are carrying.”
The team uses much of their own gear and it’s not cheap. That’s why Austin Bohanan’s mother started a fundraiser to help with their expenses.
The second annual Busar fundraiser is this Saturday, April 13, at Maple Grove Missionary Church in Maryville from 4 to 8 p.m. There will be a silent auction, barbecue and Team Busar will teach preventative search and rescue skills to both kids and adults.