While hikers fret and worry about bear attacks on the trails this summer, they may be victimized by an entirely different kind of predator prowling around their vehicles.
As summer heats up, trailheads tempt more and more drivers away from highways to sometimes remote parking areas where thieves can break windows and pick locks in privacy and make an easy getaway with hikers’ belongings.
“It doesn’t take but a few seconds for people to smash a window and grab stuff,” said Bill Kent, supervisory park ranger for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Although few trailhead thefts are reported on the Kenai Peninsula, that does not mean hikers should let their guard down and think it is safe to leave valuables inside vehicles, said Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Dan Donaldson.
Ideally, nothing valuable should be left in a vehicle parked at a trailhead. Hikers should leave valuables at home or carry valuables with them onto the trail, according to park rangers and law enforcers.
Under some circumstances, however, this can be tricky. Many hikers may be traveling long distances in their vehicles and stopping to go on day hikes, backpacking trips, canoeing trips and to camp along the way. Their vehicles may be piled with stuff possibly more than they can carry onto a trail.
Chugach National Park and the refuge do not offer storage spaces for valuables while hiking, so travelers hiking the parks’ trails and not staying in hotels may be hard pressed to find a way not to leave excess goods in a vehicle parked at a trailhead.
But there are still things hikers can do to reduce the risk of theft.
First, if you must leave something valuable in your vehicle, don’t leave it where thieves can see it.
“I think that most of the time that is the problem,” Donaldson said. “If you do (leave valuables), make sure there is nothing visible to entice someone to break in.”
The best way to hide goods is to conceal them in the vehicle’s trunk. A blanket in the back seat with a big lump under it may be as enticing as a camera sitting in the front seat.
Second, try not to leave the vehicle in a secluded remote lot where there are few other vehicles. If a parking area that is visible to traffic is nearby, it may offer more protection than a parking area closer to the trailhead but surrounded by cover for thieves, and may be worth the extra walk.
Hikers should be particularly wary of parking areas that are infrequently visited by other cars and hikers, not visible to traffic and in parking areas where vehicles are known to be left for long periods of time.
Finally, watch for suspicious activities in the parking area where you plan to leave your vehicle, such as anyone idling in the area for no obvious reason. They may be waiting for a good opportunity to make a break-in.
Even if you have not left anything valuable in your vehicle, it is always a good idea to lock it, Donaldson said.
Although some hikers may be tempted to leave a vehicle unlocked when they have left nothing of value inside to avoid having a window or lock broken, Donaldson said it may still be unwise to leave a vehicle unlocked.
“You may not have left anything in there, but they may decide they want your CD player,” he said. “I think a locked door is in and of itself a deterrent.”
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