Leaf Watch — Safety Tips

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No one ever plans to get lost, but it does sometimes happen. Each year, Georgia’s park rangers spend numerous hours searching for hikers who did not return on time, slipped on waterfalls, got off the trail or encountered other problems. Rescue teams average 50 responses each year. Follow the following tips from the pros for a fun and safe day hike.

  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Don’t forget to check in with them when you get back.
  • Stay on marked trails. Making shortcuts, cutting through switchbacks and exploring areas off the trail causes erosion and greatly increases your chance of becoming lost. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction.
  • Never climb on waterfalls. Many injuries and deaths occur on waterfalls.
  • All hikers should carry a whistle. Three short blasts on a whistle is a sign of distress. Also carry a small emergency kit with waterproof matches and energy snacks.
  • Teach children to “hug a tree” if they become lost. This means staying in one place so that rescue personnel can find them more easily. Also, tell children to answer if they hear someone calling their name in the woods.  Sometimes they become silent when they are afraid.
  • Carry plenty of drinking water and never assume stream water is safe to drink. Frequent hikers might consider buying a water filter at an outdoor supply store.
  • Don’t count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location. Telling rescue personnel that you’re lost by a big tree won’t help much as telling which trailhead you started from and how long you’ve been hiking.  Pay attention to features such as blazes and bridges.
  • Invest in good hiking socks such as those found at sporting goods stores. Avoid blisters by carrying “moleskin” and applying it as soon as you feel a hot spot on your feet. Available in the foot care section of drug stores, moleskin is like felt that sticks to your skin.
  • Be prepared for unexpected rain and wind, which can lead to hypothermia.
  • Always carry quality rain gear and turn back in bad weather. If you become wet or cold, it is important to get dry and warm as quickly as possible.
  • Dress in layers and avoid cotton. Luckily, today’s hikers can choose from numerous fabrics that wick moisture, dry quickly or conserve heat. Many experienced hikers wear a lightweight shirt that wicks moisture, while carrying a fleece pullover and rain jacket.
  • Dogs are welcome on most Georgia State Park trails (except Panola Mountain and Tallulah Gorge); however, they must be leashed at all times.  Unleashed dogs have become injured or lost when hiking with their owners.