published Saturday, April 7th, 2012

North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness rescues bring safety warnings

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  • photo
    Dylan Martin of Soddy-Daisy jumps into a blue hole on North Chichamauga Creek in Soddy-Daisy in this file photo.
    Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson

Parts of North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness in Soddy-Daisy reopen today after Tennessee State Parks closed them Thursday for maintenance, Hamilton County EMS spokeswoman Amy Maxwell said.

The maintenance comes after EMS responded to two rescues Tuesday and Wednesday, when two teenagers were injured after letting go of a rope swing too early at the Blue Hole swimming area and not clearing the 20-foot drop into the water, Maxwell said.

“Several ropes have been cut by State Parks to alleviate the problem,” Maxwell said. “We’re just afraid they’re going to end up killing somebody.”

The maintenance closed off the North Chickamauga Trail and trail head, Tennessee State Parks spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said.

In addition to taking down ropes, officials with Tennessee State Parks combed the area to assess what else could be done to stop the problems that rope swings are causing, Maxwell said.

One option discussed was to cut down tree limbs frequently used for rope swings, Lockhart said. While it would be almost impossible to prevent thrill-seekers from continuing to bring their own ropes, cutting down tree limbs would prevent places to hang the ropes.

“In terms of safety, ropes shouldn’t be there period. It’s not a swimming pool,” Lockhart said. “We don’t want to cut down trees unless they’re causing a serious safety issue.”

Hamilton County EMS already has responded to four rescue missions this year, Maxwell said. The third rescue EMS at Pocket Wilderness was when a person fell of a cliff, Maxwell said. No information was available on the fourth rescue.

For its being only the beginning of April, four rescue responses is a high number, Maxwell said, especially since Hamilton County EMS responded to just 16 incidents in Pocket Wilderness throughout all of 2011 — ranging from brush fires to injured or lost hikers.

“[Pocket Wilderness] is not hazardous,” she said. “It’s a great place if you love to hike and love nature. Unfortunately, there have been times when people have made bad decisions.”

An unsteady economy and a lack of funds make outdoor activities in areas such as Pocket Wilderness more appealing despite a lack of the proper gear or knowledge, Maxwell said.

“With this economy, it’s so hard to go on vacations, so people pick up extra-curricular activities that they sometimes have no experience in,” she said.

The unseasonably warm and early spring also has contributed to the high volume of early EMS rescue responses, Maxwell said.

“This is pretty hot for this time of year,” Maxwell said. “We haven’t even gotten to summer yet.”

When venturing out into any kind of wilderness, common sense is “paramount,” Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency spokesman Dan Hicks said.

“Have a plan before you go,” he said. “Without prior training or preparation, injuries will probably result.”

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