TODAY   |  August 25, 2010

Park rangers to tourists: Put gadgets away

With record numbers of technology-laden tourists filling national parks like Yellowstone, park rangers are seeing an increase in distraction-related incidents. NBC’s George Lewis reports.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: If you're headed to a national park before the end of summer , you're going to have a lot of company. Yellowstone , for example, is playing host to record crowds.

ANN CURRY, co-host: And those visitors are toting more technology than ever, digital cameras , smart phones , GPS locators. But as NBC 's George Lewis found out, all those gizmos can sometimes lead to trouble.

Mr. KEN PHILLIPS: Did you see a deer?

GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Park ranger Ken Phillips runs emergency services at the Grand Canyon . His mission is to keep park visitors safe, and there are plenty of those.

Ms. SHANNAN MARCAK (Grand Canyon National Park Spokesperson): On average, we've been doing about four and a half million visitors each year.

LEWIS: And these days, those visitors come laden with technology. The young woman from France with her iPhone , the guy from Japan balancing video and still cameras, and plenty of Americans eager to share their pictures with folks back home. Here's the old point of view shot over the canyon rim as we come close to the edge . But while people are carrying smart phones , they're not always doing smart things. I can use GPS to find out where I am at all times, and if I get so absorbed in this gadget that I forget the basics of safety, I can get in a lot of trouble. Just ask Kathy Hayes , whose brother-in-law Donald spotted a bison in Yellowstone . Kathy , sensing the perfect YouTube moment, followed, camera rolling.

Ms. KATHY HAYES: We'll get a shot of Donald getting gored by the buffalo.

LEWIS: But when the bison got angry and charged, it was Kathy , not Donald , he went after.

Ms. HAYES: No! It was a traumatic experience. So yeah, just don't do what I did. Be smart, people.

LEWIS: Ken Phillips says while rescue numbers remain constant, one of his technical pet peeves is a spike in false alarms sent by people with emergency beacons like the kind skiers use in avalanches. Here, most of the last dozen alerts have been for trivial problems like bad-tasting water.

Mr. PHILLIPS: There were only two where people really sustained an injury that required an emergency response.

LEWIS: So the message from the rangers: Enjoy the parks, take home lots of digital memories, but just remember the safety rules.

Unidentified Man: He may not be playing.

LEWIS: For TODAY , George Lewis , NBC News , the Grand Canyon .