Calgary

Alberta park officials say education key in curbing spike in rescues

Alberta Parks safety specialists are hoping education can help outdoor enthusiasts manage risks more effectively, as backcountry rescues jump 50 per cent over last year.

'I think a lot of people go out there in an ‘ignorance is bliss’ phase,' says safety expert

Matt Mueller, a public safety specialist with Alberta Parks, says a lot of people are not aware of the risks when using backcountry areas in Kananaskis. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

Alberta Parks safety specialists are hoping education can help outdoor enthusiasts manage risks more effectively, as backcountry rescues jump 50 per cent over last year.

Matt Mueller gave a behind the scenes look at public safety to about 17 people at the Peter Lougheed Visitor Information Centre in Kananaskis on Friday.

As a public safety specialist with Alberta Parks, he says education is key to staying on the trail and out of trouble.

"I think a lot of people go out there in an 'ignorance is bliss' phase and are not really aware of the consequences of what can happen," Mueller tells CBC News.

The session covered what public safety officials do on a day to day basis to help keep park users safe. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

With a mild winter and spring, more people are out in the parks which can keep the team of about 20 safety specialists and conservation officers on their toes.

"Certain busy weekends are just that, they are busy. Some are non-stop," he said.

"But then again there are also quiet times like this too when weather lets you get a break."

Officials have seen a 50 per cent spike in search and rescue calls in Kananaskis Country this spring compared to last year, Alberta Parks said in April.

About 17 people attended the information session on Friday. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

While the summer is the busiest period for park workers, certain rescues can be challenging year round.

"The technical climbing [rescues] are the more involved and perhaps the most dangerous ones for us as rescuers because it is such a dramatic environment to work in. The winter environment can be tricky because of the cold and the environmental worries there. It funny, it just depends on a lot of different variables," Mueller explains.

Harold Neth is camping this weekend at Elkwood.

He came by the information session to pick up some safety tips.

Harold Neth said it's good to know there are well trained people that can help. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

"We are not the big risk takers," Neth said.

"But we enjoy being out in nature and it is comforting to know if you were to encounter a bear and something did happen, you have people out there working to help you if you need it."

He said he had no idea what safety specialists dealt with on a regular basis.

"It sounded very interesting to learn about what goes on behind the scenes protecting the public or dealing with situations that come up in the park," Neth said.

"That is a huge commitment to this job and to protecting people and saving them from themselves sometimes."

With files from Meghann Dionne

now