The girls and I regularly go on microadventures in nearby city parks and are often asked incredulously, “You went by yourself?!” As much as I love a group outing, I love special time with my girls too. Yesterday, as brisk morning air kissed our cheeks, golden light filtered through the trees and squirrels scampered across the forest floor, my daughter and I hiked hand in hand without a worry in the world. Chattering furry and feathered friends aside, the trail was peaceful. Around the next corner however, we met up with two runners who exclaimed “You’re so brave to be out here all alone! Didn’t you see all the tents down by the river?” I thanked them for letting me know but wasn’t too concerned as I have never had problems on that very popular path. While I usually feel quite safe in our city parks and worry most about not having enough trail snacks, I take precautions such as carrying mace, sticking to well used paths, and not walking forested trails alone at night. Other safety considerations for urban hiking follow.
Urban Hiking Safety Tips
- Watch the Time: Go when there are lots of other people around. It’s a good sign if the parking lot is full! Don’t be the caboose (last on the trail will be last off the trail unless you’re extremely fast). Good times to go are late morning until early evening. Don’t walk after dark alone!
- Safety in Numbers: Bring a friend, or a few friends! Start or join a walking group if need be.
- Avoid Confrontation: Sometimes you might have to change your plans to avoid an unpleasant encounter. Sure, the shifty-looking guy cussing you out and talking to himself could be harmless, or he could suddenly pull a knife on you when you ask him what his problem is. If someone creeps you out, go back the way you came, or towards safety (a store, residential area, etc.). Don’t engage him/her in a debate of any kind.
- Avoid Trouble Hotspots: That trail that passes by abandoned buildings in Gangville might not be a great place to go alone, or ever. We all know where the “bad” parts of town are, but we don’t need to frequent them.
- Respect Wildlife: Animals that are habituated or used to being fed by humans can become a nuisance and a health risk. Look, but don’t touch, and never feed wildlife! Stay away from aggressive animals, big or small. Squirrels, raccoons and other animals carry worms (e.g. raccoon ringworm can cause severe illness in humans1), and critters such as bats, foxes, and skunks are known to carry rabies. Wash your hands before eating to avoid ingesting worm eggs. If you are bitten by a wild animal, get medical attention immediately as rabies is fatal if not treated immediately. While very rare, an Alberta man died of rabies in 2007 after being bitten by a bat2, and an infected bat was found in the province this summer3. For tips regarding wildlife higher up the food chain, please see this bear safety post (bears and cougars have been sighted numerous times within Calgary city limits).
- Beware of Offleash Dogs: Offleash dogs can pose a danger, especially to young children who are at many canines’ eye level. Pick up small children if an offleash dog is being aggressive, try to get the owner’s attention, and be prepared to use your mace/dog repellent. My husband was injured by an offleash dog while cycling, so I encourage you not to be too trusting of dogs you don’t know.
- Keep Your Shoes On: Back when I was a Geography student, City Parks staff told us to never walk barefoot in urban parks because of the risk of being jabbed by a dirty needle. Apparently they’re everywhere! While I have yet to see one, my friends have. Please stay on the trails and keep your shoes on! Advise your children not to touch any part of a syringe if they find one.
- Carry a cell phone and hiking essentials: If hiking with children, a small first aid kit always comes in handy for scrapes and slivers. I like to carry lots of food, water, hand sanitizer and extra clothes too. Basically the same kit as for mountain hikes, but with maybe a little less food.. (but not much).
- Have a plan: What will you do if someone tries to rob you or harm you? Run? Fight? Spray them with mace? Tae Kwon Do the jerk’s butt and conduct a citizen’s arrest? Some mental preparation and mace are a nice insurance policy, but your first priority should be to get away and call the police.
All activities involve some level of risk, but I consider urban hiking to be quite safe as I avoid known problem areas, travel in a pack, and stick to popular trails during daylight hours. Honestly, my biggest fear is not having packed enough snacks to appease the munchkins until their next feeding time! We go out several times a week and have only had to deal with rambunctious offleash dogs.
Do you feel safe in your local parks? What do you teach your children to keep them safe?
- Raccoon Roundworm. BC Centre for Disease Control. (2015, May 15). Retrieved from www.bccdc.ca/dis-cond/a-z/_r/RaccoonRoundworm/overview/Raccoon+Roundworm.htm
- Alberta has First Human Case of Rabies in Two Decades. CBC News. (2007, March 2). Retrieved from www.cbc.ca/news/canada/alberta-has-first-human-case-of-rabies-in-2-decades-1.631654.
- Alberta Confirms First Case of Rabies This Year. CBC News. (2015, August 25). Retrieved from www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-confirms-first-case-of-rabies-this-year-1.3203638.