Monday, August 24, 2009

Tragedy at Thunder Hole

We’re sure that Acadia National Park has received many comments about yesterday’s tragedy at the Thunder Hole area, and especially about whether or not Park personnel took proper care to safeguard the public.

As one of the thousands who were present at Thunder Hole before, during and after the incident involving the tragic loss of a little seven year old girl, the near loss of several others, and many injuries; we sincerely hope that Park personnel do not take a “bum rap” for what happened. The bottom line in this most unfortunate situation is that you cannot legislate or enforce safe behavior by large numbers of foolishly determined people.

We personally saw Rangers and other Park personnel trying their best to keep people from venturing too far out onto the rock ledges when powerful and increasingly large waves were coming onshore. We saw people move back at Rangers’ requests, and then go right out on the ledges again after the Ranger moved 25 or 50 feet away. We heard people cheer when spray and actual green seawater swirled on or around them. They had no clue about the risk. They also had no interest in being warned by a Ranger, much less by one of the many other ANP employees who were present and did not wear a Ranger uniform or carry a gun. Some people can be incredibly stupid, and we saw a lot of that stupidity yesterday at Thunder Hole.

The big debate is and will be – should the Park have anticipated this and just closed Ocean Drive early on Sunday morning, long before high tide. Our vote is “NO”.

Ocean Drive is one of America’s treasures – a very beautiful but also very dangerous area. The American people should be allowed easy access to this wonderful place that we all own. At the same time, each of us needs to use common sense and take reasonable care to protect ourselves and our loved ones wherever we may be – particularly in natural areas when the forces of nature are on full display. We have always admired the Park for not placing fences or barriers or obtrusive signs in places like Otter Cliffs where a number of people have been killed over the years. People need to take responsibility for their own actions, and that is a concept that has become increasingly foreign in recent years.

Our only real concern about the way in which this incident was handled is that the size of the crowd and congestion on the Loop Road yesterday significantly hindered the Rangers and rescue vehicles from responding to the emergency at Thunder Hole. There is no easy answer to this problem, but when the large number of cars began to approach the point of completely blocking all lanes of Ocean Drive, a situation that was apparent well before the tragic incident, perhaps a Ranger in the Thunder Hole area should have asked the entrance station to temporarily stop allowing more vehicles to enter so that emergency access could be maintained. This has been done from time to time in the past when crowds on Cadillac Mountain became so large that there were no more places to park. Rangers at the bottom have stopped more cars from going up until some came down to prevent gridlock.

In our view, it would be unfair to criticize Acadia National Park for not doing more to avoid this terrible incident. We were there, and overall we feel that the Park and all of its personnel did a very good job on Sunday under very difficult circumstances. The problem was people, and as we said earlier, you cannot enforce good judgment!

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