Letter: Recent emergencies show need for cell service at Jones Gap State Park

To the Editor:

Helicopters and dogs, rescue trucks and first responders, all teams out all night searching for yet another lost child in Jones Gap State Park. And there's no cell phone service because we don’t want to hinder “the wilderness experience.”

This time it was a boy scout who got lost and separated from his team. He ended up crossing the mountain and was found the next morning on Oil Camp Creek Road, about three miles away. He spent the night in freezing temperatures covering himself with leaves. Helicopters circled for a day and a half. Imagine how much fuel was spent. Thank God the boy was found, unharmed after a real wilderness experience.

Remember the two lost girls who climbed UP the mountain rather than knowing that, when lost, it’s best to follow the water DOWN the mountain? Cell service would have found them sooner and without all the search costs.

And now, just Monday, a 20-year old woman fell 45 feet from a waterfall at the park. She hiked about halfway up the falls and stopped to take a photo before continuing to the top, where she slipped and fell headfirst into the water. By the time her hiking mate hiked down the mountain and called for help, the girl was hypothermic and had large lacerations on her head and forehead.

The park pays no county taxes and makes no monetary contribution to the rescue teams who are always there to respond to a call for help. Searches are costly — in money, but also in time and danger to the local volunteers who go into the wilderness to search for the unlucky ones who don’t know that “the wilderness” can be as dangerous as it is beautiful.

Surely there’s a way that a cell tower can be placed inconspicuously somewhere near enough for the park to receive service. There could be a rule that phones were only to be used in case of emergency.

Alas, though, I fear it’s going to take a real tragedy — a death in the park — before anyone heeds this plea from a concerned citizen who loves Jones Gap State Park.

Dr. Anne Blythe, River Falls