Chris Cuomo reports for ABC News 20/20 that national parks are not always the bucolic places they're supposed to be. In many of them, park rangers are fighting drug dealers, smugglers, and even terrorists. "Just about any type of crime that goes on in any urban environment happens out here," says Dale Antonich, chief ranger at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, in Nevada and Arizona. "We've had rapes, we've had murders in the park, we've had bodies dumped in the park."
Since Lake Mead is near Las Vegas, it's one of America's busiest parks, and rangers consider it to be one of the top 10 most dangerous. It also contains the Hoover Dam, which could be a terror target. "You want to be able to come out here and camp at a beach and feel safe and we can't assure that anymore," Antonich says. "You get 5 [million] to 10 million people visiting, you're going to have problems, and if you're a bad guy or you're trying to hide from the law, what better place to go?"
More than 600 miles of our northern and southern borders are covered by parks, meaning they're prime attractions for illegal aliens. While most illegals just want to find a job, terrorists could be sneaking over the borders as well. The rangers at Organ Pipe National Monument, on the border of Arizona and Mexico, wear camouflage and bulletproof vests, and carry assault rifles. Ranger Bob Stone says, "I'll bet you there is between 300 and 500 [people] coming through there at night."
Dan Wirth, of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, says, "They could be carrying weapons of mass destruction and bringing 'em right into the country, loading 'em up and moving 'em through. We don't know."
Several terrorists have had ties to national parks. Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer walked from Canada through the North Cascades National Park in 1996. He was later sentenced to life in prison for plotting to bomb the New York subway system. Al-Qaeda member Wadih el Hage was convicted of conspiracy in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings case. Ten years before that, a park ranger in an Arizona national park caught him shooting targets with an AK-47.
In August 2002, 28-year-old ranger Kris Eggle, at Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, was killed while investigating a carjacking involving smugglers who had fled from Mexico. He was hit by three rounds from an AK-47.
On June 28, the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police released its third annual survey of the 10 Most Dangerous National Parks:
1. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona2. Amistad National Recreation Area, Texas3. Big Bend National Park, Texas4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada/Arizona5. Coronado National Memorial, Arizona 6. Biscayne National Park, Florida7. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia8. Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey/Pennsylvania 9. Edison National Historic Site, New Jersey10. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Have we got the best national parks money can buy, or do we need to increase their budget?
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