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Weekly Alibi Risk-Free Lives For All

By Captain Opinion

FEBRUARY 28, 2000:  It's a good thing that Lewis and Clark are dead. Those great explorers who spent two years running from grizzly bears, wolves, snakes and swarms of mosquitoes while exploring the Louisiana Territory at the beginning of the 19th century would be shocked at what wusses and absolute idiots Americans have become when it comes to being in the woods. If Lewis and Clark were alive, they'd probably blow their own brains out at seeing how Americans have lost their common sense and understanding of nature.

Our nation's national parks, wilderness areas and national forests are still the epitome of life. They can be serene and beautiful one minute and dangerous and scary the next. They are unpredictable places where, in an instant, you can go from basking in sunshine and smelling pretty flowers to being crushed to death by a falling tree. You can be smashed by falling boulders, zapped by lightning and pelted to death with nuts from angry squirrels. They are places where, once you go in, there is no guarantee you'll be safe or come out alive.

One thing that happens a lot in national forests is that people crack their heads, break their legs and twist their ankles after falling on slippery rocks while trying to cross streams. That's because a lot of these people are stupid in that they can't seem to figure out that wet rocks, which are by themselves slippery, are even more slippery when they're coated with moss or other green slime. Fortunately, most of these people are so embarrassed by their own stupidity that they slink away and keep their mouths shut after sustaining an injury in the woods.

And that's as it should be. When you're out in nature and get hurt, you can't blame it on anybody but yourself or God.

Now, though, thanks to Americans' belief in risk-free lives, people who can't face reality, human stupidity and a society overrun by lawyers, that is changing. People are now starting to sue the National Park Service for injuries they get while tromping around in the woods.

The latest sickening example of this "blame anybody but our own dumb selves" mentality is a lawsuit filed against the Park Service by a couple whose 12-year-old boy died three years ago at Emerald Pools in Zion National Park in Utah. The family started out on a hike for the Emerald Pools on March 28, 1997. It's an easy hike, but, like anything in the woods, even a relatively safe hike can be fraught with danger. After the family arrived at the pools, the 12-year-old stepped into a dished-out area in one of the middle pools that had a shallow stream running through it. He slipped on algae in the stream bed and wound up falling 100 feet to his death.

The death was tragic, of course, but what is more tragic is the lawsuit. The parents are seeking $3.5 million, saying the Park Service had failed to warn them that the Emerald Pools area was dangerous. There were deaths at the pools in 1968, 1983 and 1984. If the parents win, it could force the Park Service to close off certain areas of national parks out of liability fears. Even worse, it could, in the name of no one ever being injured again, lead the Park Service to pave over all its trails and make wilderness areas wheelchair accessible.

We don't know if the parents in this case failed to supervise their kid. If they let him run around by himself near areas with a 100-foot drop-off, they're idiots. Anyone who treats a national park like a suburban backyard is a goof. That the Park Service would have to erect signs warning people that nature is a dangerous place is the height of a society gone insane.

Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition with a party of 45. They spent 28 months traveling more than 8,000 miles in exploring the most dangerous wilderness in the world. During that time only one member of the party died, and that was from a legitimate illness. Luck had a lot to do with that low mortality rate, but so did skill, caution and a healthy respect for nature on the parts of expedition members. They knew that a bear could bite their heads off in a heartbeat, that their boats could overturn and that their provisions could be lost for good. Knowing that, they did what everybody should do when out in nature: They were careful.

To the growing number of idiot Americans who think that national parks are like a suburban shopping mall, remember: They aren't. Nature is unpredictable and dangerous, so be careful. And if you get a sliver or a blister while hiking, don't file a lawsuit. We don't want Lewis and Clark puking in their graves.

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