The following is part of a column from the Calgary Herald.. For the full column by David Marsden, click here.
It’s a sight I have never forgotten, despite the passage of many years. The towering tree, about the width of a car, had fallen on their tent, killing the campers instantly. A portion of the tree had been chewed away by a chainsaw, but the massive trunk was still in one piece, with bits of colourful nylon, mesh and rope from the tent extending into the spot that had been cleared for the removal of the bodies.
I was in my early teens and camping with my parents on Vancouver Island when I made the grim observation a day or two after the tragedy. I have thought about the accident from time to time over the ensuing four decades, and did so again this week, when the story of a Calgary couple who narrowly escaped a similar fate appeared in the newspaper. They didn’t just thank their maker for their lucky survival — they sued the federal government for $116,000 after a tree fell on their tent in 2012 during a camping trip in Jasper National Park.
The woman suffered cracked ribs and a broken arm in the incident at Whistlers Campground. Her partner ended up with a concussion, cuts and bruises — all because of “the failure of the defendants to properly maintain the campground in such a manner as would provide a reasonably safe location for the plaintiffs to enjoy the camping experience for which they had paid,” according to their statement of claim, which has not been proven in court.
The couple are entitled to pursue legal action after the harrowing ordeal; that’s their right. But I must confess to being puzzled about the merits of the suit. In its statement of defence, the government says employees “took all prudent and reasonable steps to ensure that visitors to the park, and to Whistlers campground in particular, would be reasonably safe from the falling of hazardous trees.”
Workers “specially trained in hazardous tree assessment” monitored the campground and removed those that posed a danger.
What more could the government have done to prevent such an act of God — “high winds and stormy weather” — which caused the tree to fall? Authorities could have cut down all the trees to further reduce the hazard, but most campers are drawn to the great outdoors by the natural beauty of their surroundings. We talk about the call of the wild, not the call of the mild.