Eight Numbers To Get You out of the Woods
Guest blog by BJ Kohlstedt
In the 2021 winter issue of Minnesota Trails magazine, Alyson Levig’s article (The Gunflint Trail-Gateway to Adventure and the Wilderness of Minnesota, p.14) detailed her trip up and down the scenic Byway visiting several scenic locations along the way. The story included a photo of the Moose Viewing Trailhead sign. That’s nothing out of the ordinary because the sign looks like one you’ve likely seen many times-a rustic wood slab on a post, painted dark brown with yellow lettering. But below that was another sign, made of metal, painted blue and white and bearing a cryptic set of letters and numbers. They’re easy to ignore, but they might just come in handy.
It’s dark, it’s cold, and you didn’t expect to be out here this long. What started as a quick solo afternoon hike, bike or ski, led to a fall and badly twisted ankle. There’s no one around, and you can’t make it back to the trailhead because it’s a maze of trails and you’re no longer sure where you are. You have a cell phone, but reception is spotty and websites don’t load. Besides being hurt, you’re lost and hobbling and it’s getting late. At a trail junction you spot another of those blue signs you’ve been ignoring.
Those blue Emergency Location signs, found at more than 3,500 sites around the nation, give trail users, friends and family, and emergency responders your location using US National Grid (USNG), the national and Minnesota geolocation format for emergency response. Your awareness of them might just take the “search” out of “search and rescue” the next time you call for help.
The first person ever to call 911 while staring at a USNG Emergency Location marker was a cross-country skier in northern Minnesota. Scared and lost in the dark, she read the words “For Help Dial 911” so she did. The sheriff’s dispatcher asked her to read the eight digits on the sign, then sent help directly to her location, saving both her and the responders a long, hard night in the woods.
But what if you’re not standing in front of a sign when you need help in the backcountry? Good thing you downloaded the USNG app before you headed out on the trail. Even without cell service, the USNG numbers follow you as you move, since the GPS signal comes not from cell towers but from satellites, and constantly gives your location within 10 meters, or thirty feet. That’s close enough to find you, even in the dark. Learn more at www.USNGCenter.org
About the Author
BJ Kohlstedt is the former Emergency Management Director for Lake County and served as an EMT on their Sheriff’s Rescue Squad for 18 years. She’s also an Environmental Educator, and volunteers for SharedGeo to promote USNG. You can find her hiking, skiing, paddling or at bjkohlstedt@sharedGeo.org