Friday, March 12, 2010

Safety on the Trails

Poway is a saddened city today. A 17 year-old girl was attacked, raped and murdered while she went running along a local trail just outside of town. Chelsea King was a Poway High School student, and a member of the cross country team here. What can we do to stay safe on the trails?

As a mounted park ranger I have warned people not to run or hike alone because of mountain lions. It never occurred to me that runners or hikers might be at risk from dangerous people, not just animals.

Lake Hodges, where Chelsea was attacked, is a beautiful place to walk, as are Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and Lake Poway. The City of Poway has almost 100 miles of trails, and part of our job as rangers is to keep our citizens safe as they enjoy the outdoors in our “city in the country.” We look for safety issues, such as holes or collapsed trails, fences that are down, vandalism or other hazards. We carry water for hot and tired hikers. We give directions and advise the public on the quickest or easiest way back to the parking lot, and we help if someone is injured.

But even in my volunteer job as a ranger, I rarely patrol alone. The only time I did not feel safe on my horse was once when a drunken man approached me at Lake Poway, and grabbed at the reins to keep from falling down. One advantage of being on a horse is I can move faster than most people on foot if I have to. 

Watch dogs
I walk the trails with my sheltie, Tux. Even though he is small, a dog is a good deterrent to criminals. Just the fact that you have a dog at your side might be enough to make it too much trouble to attack you. I have read the same advice about home burglaries. Criminals will pick a house with no dogs, because it is quiet and they don’t run the risk of getting bitten.

In the dog community there is a lot of talk about Black Dog Syndrome. Many people are afraid of them. One of my pet sitting clients has a Giant Schnauzer. Anyone who encounters this dog gives him a wide berth until they get to know him. His owner is a single woman, and I bet she bought this dog with safety in mind. He is the biggest teddy bear in the world, but at 125 pounds, he is an imposing presence, and he makes it known he will not back down.

On the other hand, a black Lab would probably lick an intruder to death.

Safe hiking with your dog
Kidding aside, here are some safety tips:
• Work up to distances and steep hills slowly. Your dog will do his best to keep up, and he will collapse from heat or exhaustion rather than quit.
• Even relatively cool days can be too hot for a dog. Don’t assume that because you can handle it, he can too.
• Hot asphalt will burn your dog’s paw pads. If it is too hot for your bare feet, it’s too hot for your dog’s.
• Carry water and a collapsible bowl.
• Keep the dog leashed. Local trails have poison oak, rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, skunks and mountain lions. Besides, there are leash laws in most areas.

Your safety
• Don’t zone out while listening to your ipod. Be aware of your surroundings and the people who approach you from either direction.
• Carry pepper spray and a cell phone. But remember, some trails in the hills and don’t get good cell phone reception.
• If you are uncomfortable, get out of there. If someone needs help, you can call for help from a distance.

Check out this safety information on the City of Poway website. And download a brochure about hiking with your dog from the Blue Sky Reserve web site. If you don’t live near Poway, the information is helpful for people who hike anywhere.

Photos: My horse Ari and I on patrol at Lake Poway, shortly after the 2007 fires. Casey, a Giant Schnauzer, poses with me to show he is really really big.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tulsa lacks trails.
Sad sad news. My heart goes out to her family.