Ranger Liz Hall leads GSMNP Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR)

August 27, 2020

Ranger Liz Hall

by Julie Dodd

Ranger Liz Hall joined the Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff in June as the park’s first emergency manager.

Hall, who has more than 11 years of national park experience and a Master’s degree in Public Administration, is coordinating emergency medical responses and search and rescue (SAR) operations in conjunction with local agencies and organizations.

She also is directing the park’s preventive search and rescue (PSAR) program with staff and volunteers. Park staff respond to over 100 Search and Rescues every year, many of which could be avoided with proper planning and preparation.

GSMNP childhood experiences

Liz Hall childhood backpacking
Liz Hall, 6, on family backpacking trip with her family en route to campsite 27 in GSMNP.

Hall grew up in Knoxville and has fond memories of her experiences in GSMNP when she was a child, including her first backpacking trip with her family when she was 4.

“My father was an avid outdoorsman. He raised us hiking, kayaking and having Friday night picnics in the park,” Hall said.

“This is the park that taught me to love wild places, and I’m so glad to be back protecting it,” she said.

NPS background

Before coming to GSMNP, Hall served as a ranger in Yellowstone National Park from 2015-2020 – as a law enforcement officer and then as the emergency program manager. Prior to that, she was a backcountry ranger at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, from 2011-2015.

Her experience in the National Park Service started when she was a backcountry intern at Zion National Park and then an intern in preventive search and rescue in Yosemite National Park.

Hall explained that preventive search and rescue (PSAR) primarily started in the national parks in the West. To reduce the number of search and rescues, the parks identified what led to the need for search and rescues and then developed strategies for reducing those issues.

Analyzing Search and Rescue data

Hall is analyzing the data GSMNP has collected over the past 10 years of search and rescues to determine what the major issues are that lead to the need for SARs in the park and then developing strategies to address those issues.

GSMNP SAR on Ramsey Cascades Trail
This SAR team crosses a log bridge with rescue equipment to assist an injured hiker on Ramsey Cascades Trail. NPS photo

Hall said the most common calls for help are hikers who have orthopedic injuries.

“We want to help visitors understand the environment and make good choices about their hiking,” Hall said. “The hike they take needs to line up with the skills they have.”

“Not every park visitor stops at the visitor center,” Hall said. So part of the PSAR program will be to have seasonal rangers and trained volunteers at trailheads and on the trails to talk with park visitors.

Hall also is exploring ways to get information to park visitors before they reach the trail.

Safe hiking includes selecting an appropriate hike, carrying the 10 hiking essentials, and letting someone know your hiking plans, Hall said.

Hall explained a rescue can require many hours, including mobilizing a rescue team, reaching the injured hiker, and carrying the hiker to safety. A litter carry out can require a minimum of 10 SAR members or more depending on how steep the trail is and the distance that must be covered.

Tour de Smokies helps PSAR program

Nancy East and Chris Ford at LeConte Lodge
Nancy East and Chris Ford took a selfie at  LeConte Lodge during their Tour de Le Conte that raised $7,000 for the Trillium Gap Trail restoration project.  They plan to raise $60,000 during their upcoming Tour de Smokies journey. The money will help fund the GSMNP Preventive Search and Rescue program.

Hall will supervise two seasonal rangers dedicated to PSAR. These rangers will be on the trails to educate park visitors and will train volunteers to assist them. The rangers will be medical providers trained in ground search and rescue and will be able to help plan and assist with search and rescues.

Hall is enthusiastic about Nancy East and Chris Ford’s Tour de Smokies that is a fundraiser for GSMNP Preventive Search and Rescue.

East and Ford, both veteran hikers, have set a goal of raising $60,000 for the program.

“The funds they are raising will be a huge help,” Hall said. “Those funds will go directly to fund two seasonal rangers.”

Hall is a nationally registered paramedic and spends her free time volunteering with local SAR teams and training her SAR dog, Reu.

Hall began her own search and rescue experience when joined the Cataloochee Ski Patrol when she was 17.

“Many of the folks who got me started are still here,” Hall said. “It’s fun to be back working with them.”

Support Tour de Smokies fundraiser

We hope you’ll virtually follow Nancy “Seal Mom” East and Chris “Pacer” Ford during their Tour de Smokies fundraiser hiking journey. They plan to begin their Tour on Sept. 4.

Regular updates and photos from their daily hikes will be provided through Friends of the Smokies and Nancy’s blog, Hope and Feather Travels, and social media channels.

You can support their hiking journey and improve safety in the park for all hikers by making a donation on FOTS website or on the Facebook fundraiser page.