Frequently Asked Questions
Why were parts of the park closed?
Illegal cross-border activity increased in the late 1990s and 2000s including the shooting death of Park Ranger Kris Eggle in 2002. The management at the time of the closure in 2003 felt the best management action for visitor and staff safety was to reduce potential visitor interaction by closing areas of the park that had high levels of illegal border activity.
When did the closures start?
There has been large scale closure of the park since 2003.In 2012 a review process was implemented which allowed park staff to evaluate the status of different closed areas, compare those to open areas and examined the level of illegal activity. Through the evaluation process if an area was determined to have the same or less safety concerns it was suggested the area be opened. The opening of these areas began the process of educating visitors and allowing them to make the choice of how comfortable they are to travel in certain areas.
What has changed since 2003?
The Department of the Interior, National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection has constructed infrastructure and increased numbers of agents and park rangers.Where there used to be a barbed wire fence designating the border there is now a 30-mile vehicle barrier fence and a 5.2-mile pedestrian fence.The NPS has increased the Visitor and Resource Protection staff from 5 park rangers to 20.The Border Patrol Ajo Station in the Tucson Sector has increased from 25 agents to over 500.The Department of Homeland Security has installed towers with radio and imaging technology that also aids in the tracking and apprehension of those engaged in illegal smuggling.
Why are closed areas of the park being opened now?
With the changes that have happened since the closure started in 2003, the management of visitor staff safety is being transformed from a closed based system to an educational based system.Increasing visitor's situational awareness, the visitor will be able to make their own decisions based on experience and comfort level.
Is the park safe?
Cross-border activity in southern Arizona is a reality. No national park can guarantee the safety of every visitor and inherent risks exist in many backcountry settings. However law enforcement statistics show park incidents/crimes at Organ Pipe are not any higher than those of other parks of similar size.
What should I do if I see or am approached by an illegal smuggler?
The best course of action is to leave the area without engaging the smuggler. Usually when one encounters smugglers they keep moving and do not want to engage the visitor.If visitors encounter anyone out of food and water they may be in dire need of assistance from trained professionals.Border Patrol has special units trained for such emergencies.For any of these activities you should report it as soon as possible to either 911, or any employee at the park or border patrol agent.Having GPS coordinates is helpful but do not stay in an area to get a GPS reading if you are being approached by smugglers.