Wary of the Wild

Advice To The Wary While in The Wild

Planning a hiking trip in Arkansas? Read on for hiking and backpacking safety information:

Be Prepared--Know Your Maps: Backpacking trail maps can be important, particularly if you are not familiar with the area you plan to hike. Obtain and study trail maps and guides before you go hiking or backpacking. Specific maps, brochures and trail guides, along with addresses, are listed in this booklet so that you can receive the most detailed information in order to prepare ahead of time.

Purify All Drinking Water: Do not drink untreated water! Water in Arkansas's springs, streams, and lakes is often clear and inviting but should not be considered safe to drink until properly treated. Regardless of how clean it appears, a stream or lake can be infested with parasites or bacteria that may make you quite sick. The last thing you need is to become ill in a remote location or on your vacation. Treat all water with water purification tablets as instructed on the label, boil for approximately 6-10 minutes, or use water purification filters which are specifically labeled "Effective against Giardia."

Hunters And Hikers: Autumn is a popular time for hiking and backpacking, however, this is also the beginning of Arkansas' hunting seasons. With a little preparation, hunters and hikers can enjoy the outdoors simultaneously. In fact, both groups actually benefit from each other. The sale of hunting licenses is the state's primary source of funds for managing our wildlife resources and, in turn, hunters benefit from hiking trails which provide back-country access. During Arkansas's turkey and deer seasons, hikers may wish to wear blaze orange clothing to increase their visibility. Those who prefer to avoid contact with hunters have the option of hiking in one of the state parks, Corps of Engineers recreation areas, or national parks where hunting is prohibited. Hikers may wish to schedule their trips around the state's hunting seasons to avoid any potential conflicts. These dates are set each year in February by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. For a list of hunting season dates, contact: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, #2 Natural Resources Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205. (501) 223-6300.

Wear The Correct Clothing: Dress properly for your hiking or backpacking trip. During the winter, dress in multiple layers so you can adjust as necessary. Refer to the clothing checklist in the backpacking section of this guide for recommendations. Shoes may be the most important item to check before your trip. Do not wear new shoes, since they can rub your feet and form blisters. Break in new shoes or boots completely before wearing them for an extended hiking trip. Make sure they fit well, are comfortable, and provide support and protection. Remember to keep your toenails well trimmed and bring antiseptic and moleskin in case of blisters. In the warmer months, do not underestimate the need for clothes to protect you from the sun and to warm you after it sets.

Things That Get Under Your Skin: Ticks, chiggers and mosquitos are common throughout Arkansas. During the warm months of spring, summer and fall, the use of a good insect repellent is recommended. Although related diseases are rare, there have been cases of Lyme's Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever reported in Arkansas. At the very least, each of these insects can become quite annoying and their contact can become very uncomfortable. Check your body, head, and hair often for ticks when hiking in a wooded or grassy area. Immediately remove any you find. When you take hold of a tick, it will usually release its hold at once. If it does not, gently grasp it with tweezers or forceps and pull. Make sure that all parts are removed.

Things That Rub You The Wrong Way: Poison ivy is quite common in the southern United States, and is found in abundance along many trails. It can take the form of a spreading groundcover or a climbing vine that attaches itself to trees and rocks. A good common rule is "Leaves of three--let it be." Learn to recognize the three shiny leaves and the vines with the reddish, hair-like rootlets that characterize this plant. Poison ivy is contracted by absorbing the oily substance called urishiol which is found year-round on its vines, stems and leaves. It can also be translocated by coming in contact with shoes, clothing, pet hair, etc. If these items are subsequently handled, the oil may irritate the contacted section of the body. If poison ivy comes in contact with your skin or clothes, wash with soap and cold water as soon as possible. If you know you are highly allergic, it would be wise to consult your pharmacist before making a trip. There are ivy block medications available to offer protection.

Watch Your Step: Only a few poisonous snakes are found in Arkansas. Snake bites are quite rare and can usually be prevented by being alert. The best way to avoid a snakebite is to avoid snakes. Do not step where you cannot see. Do not put your hands inside holes in trees, logs or rocks. Do not wander around camp in the dark without a flashlight. Learn the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Common poisonous snakes in Arkansas are the copperhead, rattlesnake, and water moccasin. The majority of snakes encountered are non-poisonous; nevertheless, if in doubt, assume that the snake is poisonous and avoid it. If a bite does occur, keep the victim calm and quiet, and seek medical help as quickly as you are able. Above all, remember to remain calm! Most severe snakebite injuries are usually the result of mishandling the injury rather than of the venom itself. Be prepared for the unexpected by consulting your physician for emergency procedures before you begin your hike.

Don't Get Too Close to The Edge: To preserve scenic beauty and ecology, fences and warning signs have not been installed along trails. Caution and close supervision of children are required while visiting these areas.

Always Practice Accident Prevention: Trails often lead to remote locations. It may be difficult and time consuming to rescue injured individuals, so please use common sense and be especially cautious in secluded areas. Serious and fatal injuries can occur. If an accident does occur, remain calm. Make the victim comfortable and evaluate your options. Go for help as quickly as possible. The faster qualified medical help arrives, the better the chances for a quick and complete recovery. It is recommended that hikers visit their physician at least once a year for a thorough physical examination. At that time, individuals should inform their doctor that they may be participating in hiking activities.