On the first weekend in April, Maine game wardens responded to two distress calls, one from a hiker who had fallen into the water along the Appalachian Trail in Franklin County, and another from a family who had gotten lost on Tumbledown Mountain in Weld.

Neither party was prepared for their adventures-turned-bad, and in that way they act as a warning to everyone, from our state and elsewhere, who’ll visit the Maine woods this summer: There’s nothing inherently dangerous about the vast majority of Maine trails. But if you plan to use them, make sure you actually plan.

“Planning is really important,” Game Warden Kyle Hladik, a veteran of numerous wilderness search-and-rescues, told the Editorial Board last week. “Often people just didn’t take the unexpected into account.”

That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago, when neither party had the clothing or gear necessary for the time of year. When things went wrong, they weren’t ready.

After a record-breaking year for visits in 2020, Maine state parks expect another busy year as residents and tourists alike rush to get outside after the long winter, which this year came with COVID too.

People should not hesitate to enjoy the Maine outdoors to the extent their experience and ability allows, Hladik said. They just need to keep a few things in mind.


First, tell someone where you’re going, which narrows down your location in case of a search.

Also, know your route and what conditions to expect. Realize that conditions may change as you go and be ready with food, water, a head lamp, blanket and extra clothing. Sometimes it’s colder than you thought or the hike is taking longer than expected; be prepared to alter your plans in response to conditions if necessary.

“You’ve got to stop and evaluate and decide whether to continue,” Hladik said.

Having a phone with you could save your life — it certainly did for the hiker on the AT, who had just enough coverage to send out a text. He was suffering from hypothermia when rescuers found him.

But, Hladik said, have a backup plan. “What if service was slightly worse and he couldn’t get a text out,” the warden said. “You’ve got to think, what if my phone dies?”

Even if one can contact help, there’s no guarantee that it is nearby. In many Maine hikes, self-reliance is necessary — or can become so very quickly.


Again, that’s no reason not to enjoy the Maine woods, which has offerings for every circumstance and ability level.

But be careful, as some of those hikes hold risks even for an experienced hiker.

As more COVID-exhausted people take to the woods for relief, Western states are finding people ill-equipped for their adventures and over-confident in their abilities to handle what comes their way.

They’re also finding more trash along trails, another result of heavy use.

Hladik says wardens want to avoid either situation this summer in Maine woods.

So make a plan, head out, and leave the place better than you found it.

“People come here because it’s a clean, pristine area,” Hladik said, “and we want them to come back.”

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