Wilderness signs credited for decrease in search and rescues in Haywood County

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A wilderness sign with backcountry preparedness tips. A wilderness sign with backcountry preparedness tips.
December 7, 2020

More than a year after informational safety signs were installed at Graveyard Fields in Pisgah National Forest, Haywood County Emergency Services recorded a 50 percent decrease in search and rescue calls on federal land in the county.

Overall, 90 percent of search and rescue calls in Haywood County occur on federal land, according to Haywood County Emergency Services Director Greg Shuping.

“Before the wilderness signs were posted within the area, the majority of our search and rescues were for forest visitors who had taken a wrong turn and got lost. We realized that visitors may not be familiar with the area and could use some signage to help orient themselves within the wilderness area,” Shuping said.

The project was a collaboration between the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, The Pisgah Conservancy, Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, U.S. Forest Service, and emergency services. In April 2019, 22 informational signs were installed within the recreation area accessible at milepost 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The signs feature tips about bear safety and wilderness preparedness.

“These signs are helping so many people improve their outdoor experiences by staying safe,” said Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. “In 20 years of involvement in interpretive research, this is one of the best examples I have ever seen of the power of well-designed signs to change behavior.  We were delighted to work in partnership with so many other groups to keep visitors safe while exploring in and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

Between May 2018 and April 2019, emergency services received a total of 32 search and rescue calls. During the same period from 2019 to 2020, there were 16 calls.

“The U.S. Forest Service and our partners share a common goal—to provide an enjoyable and safe experience for our visitors. Successful partnerships, like this one, can help us all achieve that goal through collaboration and shared resources,” said Natalie Lester, Volunteer and Partnerships Coordinator for the Pisgah Ranger District. “We are very grateful to our partners for their collaboration on this important project and to Haywood County Emergency Services and the local Volunteer Fire Departments that provide such critical services to forest visitors.”