Some asking why hiking trails in Phoenix aren't closed off during the hot summer days

PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Despite the blazing heat, many people refuse to take a break outside, and on Wednesday, firefighters responded to yet another heat-related call to rescue a hiker.

At around noon, firefighters were sent out to the Camelback, where an unprepared hiker was calling for help.

"He was wearing all-dark clothing, and didn't look very comfortable," said witness Carter Crooks.

That hiker was walked down the mountain by rescue crews, who also gave him IV. There were, however, at least five other such incidents over the weekend. So, if the heat is so excessive, some are questioning why doesn't the city shut down the hiking trails. When asked about it, officials with the city's Parks and Recreation Department say it's easier said than done.

"So, we have 41,000 acres of desert parks and preserve land here in the city, and within that area is over 200 miles of trail," said Gregg Bach with Phoenix Parks and Recreation. "So there are some challenges when you say can you close down those areas."

City officials also say they don't want to punish the hikers who come prepared and follow the rules.
Instead the city actually decided to do something opposite to closing down the trails. They are opening the popular spots for longer periods of time.

"From June to September, we have three different trailheads, busier trailheads that are open later into the evening," said Bach. "So they can park until 9:00 p.m., and hike until 11:00 p.m."

The idea is to encourage hikers to hit the trails early in the morning or later in the evening, when the weather is cooler.

A few years ago, Phoenix's Parks and Recreation Department started the "Take a Hike, Do it Right" campaign to educate hikers on the right way to hike in the Arizona heat.

"You make sure to stay hydrated because you have the water bottle," said one hiker. "I drank 120oz of fluids today. Filled it up with ice and by the time I'm done with my workout, it's just about melted and a gallon is just barely enough to make my work out."

On hot days like this, Parks and Rec officials say they also have more park rangers in the line of sight for hikers.

Meanwhile, according to Phoenix Fire Captain Danny Gile, the department has already responded to over 150 mountain rescues in 2018. Despite numerous attempts to educate the public on the dangers of hiking in the Arizona heat, the numbers are on par with the same time in 2017.

Fire officials say the cost of rescues do add up, considering the expensive equipment that is used, along with the manpower and the time it takes to get someone off the mountain. Giles said each rescues can cost several thousand dollars.

"If we have to launch the helicopter, you're looking at $1,500 an hour, just to operate the helicopter," said Giles.

Some states charge for annual hiker cards, where they use the proceeds to pay for the cost of rescues. If a hiker does not have a car, law enforcement can charge them for the rescue. Meanwhile, the city says they have already budgeted for hiker rescues through their general fund, and have not looked into a similar program as of yet.

City of Phoenix's Take a Hike, Do it Right campaign