EVANSTON — I recently had the opportunity to ride along with Uinta County Search and Rescue (SAR) on a daylong training trip around the county riding ATVs and side-by-sides. I was invited by 25-year SAR veteran Lt. Jay Parro, owner of a local calibration company and a volunteer member of the group.
I thought I would be the co-pilot on his Can-Am Commander, a 1,000cc off-road vehicle, but I was wrong — that spot was reserved for Zeus, the 80-pound year-and-a half-old pitbull without a single mean bone in his body. Zeus rides next to Jay on a custom-carpeted plywood platform at the perfect level for him to see and dish out wet slobbering kisses every 10 miles or so. At least one side of my face stayed pretty dust-free on our 90-mile ride on county roads and two tracks.
We started at the county road system in Hilliard, 15 miles or so from Evanston, and rode on the old railroad grade up and over to the Piedmont Kilns for our first stop.
“We used to do 10 or 15 rescues or searches a month, back before cellphones and GPS,” Parro said as we chatted and cruised down the dirt roads. “Now we only do about 10 or 15 a year. Search and Rescue does own a few vehicles, and we’ve had some donated, but most of the vehicles we’ve bought ourselves.” Parro said.
At the Piedmont Kilns, lead liaison Aaron Hutchinson began the training by assigning teams with GPS coordinates of locations to find. The coordinates were based on scenarios and locations where SAR had been dispatched in the past help or rescue someone. Searching for missing persons, assisting stuck vehicles, dealing with accidents and helping out at events are only some of the duties of SAR.
The group on our ride consisted of about 15 members riding ATVs, side-by-sides and a couple of Jeeps. Search and Rescue doesn’t have any employees; the group is made up entirely of volunteers. Currently, the group has around 20 members, some of whom were unable to attend the training because graduation fell on the same weekend. Out of the 20, three are Uinta County Sheriff’s Office deputies and are paid by the sheriff’s office when on duty, though some searches require more deputies.
“We get a lot of support from the Sheriff’s [Office],” said Parro. “We do get some grant money and some from the county, but our big fundraiser is working at the Fort Bridger Rendezvous.”
Ron Taylor, another long time SAR member and employee of the county, took time to visit with me about the area on some of the stops.
“There’s a lot of history out here,” he said as he pointed out areas and landmarks from one of the vistas. “There’s a lot for people to see.”
For lunch, we stopped at the River Pavilion at the Uinta County Youth Camp above Mountain View.
“At one point, we thought we might lose the whole thing,” Taylor said, referring to the Tokewana fire that burned several years ago near the camp. “We got lucky.”
After lunch, we rode up a county road and into the forest on a two-track road to Van Tassel Lake. After a quick stop to stretch our legs and take in the view, we headed back toward the Hilliard starting point. At another stop on the bluff above the Meeks Cabin road, Taylor said, “You can see [the] Uinta Mountains there and the Wind River Mountains there,” pointing to a range more that 150 miles away.
“We’ve done a lot of searches up here in the Uintas, some of them in the middle of the night,” Parro said. “We used to do a lot of searches with Summit County (Utah), but not so much anymore. They’ve got their own teams and only call us when needed.”
SAR has several trainings throughout the summer that are similar to the ride I went on. The group meets every second Thursday of the month, alternating locations between Evanston and Bridger Valley. In addition, they have one training or service mission each month. This great group is dedicated to the effort and spending the day with them was not only insightful, it was a lot of fun. Uinta County Search and Rescue is always looking for volunteers. Please call Jay Parro at (307) 679-0158 for more information or stop by the sheriff’s office to pick up an application.