One of the most critical missions that park rangers perform is rescuing hikers in distress in sub-zero weather. This is a common mission for rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park who perform about 100 search and rescue missions a year. Donors just gave 15 high-performance search and rescue jackets to the park’s rangers to help them as they work in inclement weather.
The donations for these search and rescue jackets came from two sources. Residents of Sevier County, Tennessee, held a crossfit competition at the Outdoors in the Smokies event center in March 2015 to raise funds, and a husband and wife donated money to thank the rangers for the care that the man received during a high-profile rescue in April 2015.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Eric Keller had a medical crisis at the top of Mount Le Conte, and park rangers spent 36 hours recovering him. Keller and his wife, Diane Petrilla, were so grateful for the way that the park rangers handled his rescue that they donated to help the rangers perform rescues under similarly challenging conditions.
Keller and his wife are not the only family to show their gratitude for a difficult rescue at the hands of park rangers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the past 40 years, the mother of a teenager rescued on December 3, 1974, has brought a poinsettia to the park’s headquarters on that anniversary to thank them for saving her son, Eric Johnson. Mrs. Wanneta Johnson feels that it’s the least she can do to thank the current park rangers for their work.
The weather in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be deceptive – often pleasant at lower altitudes while dangerous in the mountains. Hikers do not always realize this discrepancy and can be caught unprepared. As a result, park rangers at this park are likely to continue to perform a high volume of search and rescue operations of this sort. At least now they will be even more prepared for the bone-chilling weather conditions that are a part of handling winter rescue operations.