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Jan Dzierzak of Cooper's Rock State Park gives us sound advice

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Over 13,000 acres and 50 miles of trails, Cooper's Rock is one of the loveliest places to spend a day or a weekend. It's got camping, rocks for climbing and bouldering, hiking trails, and an overlook that will take your breath away.

We spoke to Jan Dzierzak, Park Supervisor there for the last few years, for tips on spending your time there (or in any woods) safely. He also talks about what to do if you get into a bit of trouble.

photo. of Jan
Jan, a big friend to the MARG team!


Jan says folks unfamiliar with the area can ask one of the park personnel about the best places for them to hike. Often, he says, visitors who are unfamiliar with topographic maps and the nature of the geography misunderstand difficulty levels. There may be a trail that looks very close on a map but has a 1000 climb to get to it. If you are a beginner hiker, or even if you are more advanced but haven't hiked Cooper's Rock before, the staff on-site will be happy to help you figure out a good route. This is a good plan in any new park: ask the staff. Get info from the professional folks who know the park best.

Most of the issues come about because visitors are not prepared, and don't know what they don't know. Jan told us experienced hikers with good supplies and preparation can still get into trouble...but prevention of a huge majority of park emergencies depends mostly on the following.

Take enough water. What is enough depends upon weather conditions, but as Jan reminds us all, you can get dehydrated while in a pool. Cooler weather does not mean you can cut down on regular hydration. Becoming dehydrated can be very dangerous, and will contribute to weakness and confusion...a snowball effect leading to injuries. So take the water, and remember to stop and drink at regular intervals.

Use the proper footwear. Sandals, flip flops, tennis shoes...these are all fine if you are driving into a picnic area, but for hiking, you truly do need a solid pair of boots. Also, remember to break those boots in well before hitting the trails, or you'll be limping out with painful blisters. Boot fit is important, so if this is your first pair, go to an actual outdoors store to get them fitted properly. Good boots will help prevent ankle injuries, protect your feet and ankles from thorns and sharp objects, and can keep you from slipping on loose soils/rock scree.

Charge your phone, then put it in your pack. Besides hoping visitors stay "in the moment" and really enjoy the woods without the filter of the phone camera, Jan reminds hikers to keep your eyes on where you are walking. Look around you...look up, side to side...stop and listen. There's a lot of magic in the woods! And...if you do need your phone for an emergency call, you've got battery left.


So what if you do get in trouble? State Parks do have plans for emergencies. Jan and his staff are there to help at Cooper's Rock. The pandemic has brought families and first-time hikers to the park, and as one would expect, that means more emergencies. The 911 operators, the park staff, EMS, and rescue teams all work together closely...Jan knows just who to call for exactly what is needed in any given situation.

If you become lost or injured, what should you do? What can you expect?

First, get out that phone whose battery you've been saving. Try calling 911. If you do not have service, try texting - often texts will go through when calls won't. If you can walk, try moving uphill - you'll get better reception on a ridge. If you can provide your location using GPS coordinates, that is awesome. There are apps, free and easy to use, that can show you these numbers or your location on the map. Know how to take a screenshot and send it via text. Include info about any injuries or medical situations you might have (I feel very confused, I am really weak, I need insulin, my head hurts).

Next, stay in one place. Don't walk around, don't try to find your way out. The emergency folks may have been able to pinpoint your location using GPS, even if you weren't able to provide the coordinates. Stay where you are, so no time is lost trying to find you.

person waiting in woods for help

The 911 operator will call the Cooper's Rock staff as well as EMS. Jan and his staff will decide if any additional support is needed, and make those calls. Give everyone time to assemble and get a plan in motion. This may take some time, depending upon the terrain and your status. Perhaps all you need is an ATV-type vehicle to come get you. Medics or doctors may need to come to you, possibly using rope systems. The scenarios are endless: just know there are people on the way, and you will be safe soon.

Spending time at Cooper's Rock is pretty darn wonderful. Get your boots on and head out to enjoy some time away, whether it is just an afternoon or a few days. For more information about the park, camping facilities, and more, go here.

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