Archive for tag: Public education

Swiftwater season approaches

Fish Creek recovery Shari2

If you're a whitewater kayaker or rafter, this is the time of year that you start to get excited; you get your gear ready, plan your trips, and wait for the runoff with anticipation. For the rest of us, it's just the approach of the dreary mud season, right?

Not so fast. As a few tragic events over the past couple of years have shown, we all would do well to keep the approaching swiftwater season in mind. Last year, a mother in Routt County fell into a rushing creek and drowned while trying to save her child, who had crawled out to a dangerous spot on a rock during a spring hike. The year before, a woman riding a horse fell into a rushing creek in Eagle County and she drowned too. Just because you didn't plan to be in the water doesn't mean you won't be. A few simple safety tips to follow:

  1. Teach your children about the dangers of swiftwater; don't assume they will understand on their own that the harmless little trickle of water in July may become a raging force in May.
  2. Avoid hikes with dangerous stream crossings, even where there are log bridges. Bridges may fail, or you may lose your balance.
  3. Keep your pets away from rushing streams in springtime.
  4. If you must be within ten feet of a dangerous creek or river for some reason, observe the swiftwater safety rules: wear footwear with good traction, a PFD (lifejacket) and a helmet. Have a buddy with you. Carry a hiking stick that you could hold out to someone, or better yet, know how to use a throwbag. Most swiftwater accidents begin on the shore.
  5. Be aware that water levels can change very quickly, and strainers can suddenly appear. A strainer is an item in the water, usually a log, that is catching debris moving through the water. Strainers are very dangerous because if you get caught in one, you are likely to be sucked under the water and held there.
  6. If the worst happens and you fall in, never try to stand up or put your foot down on the bottom; it may become trapped and pull you underwater. Get your feet downstream of you and keep your head up. Then try to swim towards shore, or grab a branch on shore.

Don't underestimate the power of a creek during spring runoff! Examples of Summit County spots that may become dangerous include Willow Creek, parts of Ten Mile Creek (especially around Officer's Gulch), the forks of the Swan, and the Columbine takeout on the lower Blue River. The swiftwater rescue team members of the Summit County Rescue Group and the Summit County Water Rescue Team are here for you in the event you need us, but the reality is, it takes us precious time to get to you after the call for help has gone out. Usually by the time we arrive, it's too late.

Photo: Members of SCRG and SCWRT assist Routt County Search & Rescue with the search for a missing woman who fell in Fish Creek in 2009. Photo by Shari Topping.

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