The Dark Side of the Parks

The Dark Side of the Parks

Americas 59 National Parks provide community access to some of the great and most famous scenery of the world – canyons, forests, lakes and breathtaking vistas that have enchanted visitors for the last 100 years.

During this time these areas have been visited by many thousand of people who hike and camp in areas that are administered by the US National Park Service – an administration that has generally helped maintain a safe and happy environment for the visitors.

However there is a dark side to the parks. Over the years there have been a number of unexplained disappearances – people who have entered, but have never returned, for reasons sometimes unclear or unexplained.

One of these was 6 year-old Dennis Martin, who was on an annual camping trip with his family in June 1969 at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. Playing hide and seek with relatives he was last seen going behind a bush to hide but was never seen again. The search that followed involved over 1500 volunteers and covered a 56 square mile area.

An 8-year-old boy from Syracuse, Douglas Legg, disappeared in July 1971 while hiking close to a summer home owned by his family. This was located in the Adirondack Mountains in north-eastern New York. His disappearance sparked the biggest ever search in the area, involving 600 people and US Airforce aircraft equipped with infra-red scanning devices. Despite all this he has never been located.

Jared Negrete was a 12-year-old boy scout involved in his first camping trip in the San Bernardino National Forest in July 1991. While hiking along a trail with five other Scouts and their troop leader he became separated and lost from view. Despite a 16-day night and day search that involved mounted rangers and helicopters, he was never found.

Several of these cases are the subjects of a series of self-published books written by investigative author David Paulides, called Missing 411. They provide an intriguing insight into these mysteries – and a documentary film on the same topic followed in 2017.


Image: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is one of the most narrow roads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Living up to its name, the road allows park visitors to enjoy the beauty of the Smokies from their vehicles. The transportation system of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is representative of NPS park road design and landscape planning throughout the country. Much of the conservation work was undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, taken 1996, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.