Boaters urged to play it safe
Glenwood Springs Professional Firefighters lends and donates personal floatation devices for free, so boaters have no excuse. Call 970-274-9676 or visit the Glenwood Springs Fire Department to take advantage of this program, which now offers PFDs for adult and youth.
The rivers are rising, and it’s that time of year again when emergency responders hope that boaters know what’s best for them.
Along with all the typical boater safety concerns, river users this summer and next will have to contend with overhead construction on the Grand Avenue bridge, though Colorado Department of Transportation is working to keep the impact minimal.
When the new pedestrian bridge begins to come together (one very heavy piece at a time), commercial and private boaters will face some delays from mid- to late July, said Tom Newland, communications manager for the bridge project.
For a two- to three-week period in July boating from Grizzly Creek and No Name to the construction area will be delayed from 4 a.m. to noon for five days. These delays will not be on weekends.
Which five days won’t be known until right beforehand because the timing will depend upon the weather. During that period CDOT will have daily phone conferences for commercial rafters at 4 p.m. with updates about when the delays will be.
With tons (literally) of heavy material and equipment overhead, it presents a pretty unsafe situation for anyone going underneath, said Newland. Even if relatively small equipment were to fall it could cause serious injury to a boater, he said.
CDOT and the construction company has already been meeting with commercial river outfitters about the morning closures. And the agency might give preference to commercial rafters and let them put on at Grizzly Creek an hour or so early, considering they probably wouldn’t reach the bridge until after construction should be wrapped up.
But that’s not a sure thing, because overhead work might have to be extended, said Newland.
Though it isn’t yet scheduled, Newland said another river users meeting will likely be in early June for a better update of the July delays.
CDOT also produced a safety video concerning the bridge construction.
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One of the first steps in the project was to construct a causeway, which has cut the river’s width in half under the bridge and made for more rapid flows.
Boaters should keep alert and stay river right while going under the bridge, because the left side of the pier will be mostly taken up by the causeway, said Newland.
Tubing under the bridge during construction is “highly discouraged,” he said.
Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Company, said the construction at the bridge doesn’t pose a big concern, and the channel to the right of the bridge column will be easy to navigate. If anything it’s creating a fun wave train for customers at the end of their trip, he said.
And though river safety advice is pretty much the same as it’s always been, some of basics haven’t sunk in for everyone.
One of the most important steps you can take is to wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
Phoebe Larsson, co-owner of Whitewater Rafting LLC, said it’s shocking how many people her guides will see on the river without a PFD, or who will have the PFD in the boat rather than wearing it.
Just like you would set a good example by wearing your seat belt, parents should model good behavior for their kids by always wearing a PFD on the river, said Travis Rohe, a Glenwood Springs firefighter and paramedic.
Whitewater Rafting LLC rents PFDs out for $5 per day, as do many other local rafting companies, said Larsson.
Boaters also must be wary of strainers, which are dangerous collections of debris or limbs that can hang up a swimmer or flip a boat, and of man-made structures, she said.
If you cease to be a boater and find you’ve become a swimmer, remember to keep your feet up and stay in the whitewater float position. “Keep your toes up and nose up” with your feet pointing downstream, said Larsson.
Swimmers who put their feet on the river bottom risk getting caught in a foot entrapment, a deadly situation that causes river deaths every year. A swimmer caught in foot entrapment can drown in only a few feet of water, said Larsson.
People getting on the water need to be prepared on multiple levels, said Kris Wahlers, Colorado’s boating safety program manager. Be prepared with the right equipment; be prepared for the section you’re boating and the conditions.
“And be prepared for the possibility that you’ll find yourself in the water.” People new to boating in Colorado are often taken off guard by the force of the moving water and the effects of the cold – what that does to your respiration and ability to swim, he said.
Ultimately, boaters should be prepared to self rescue if they find themselves in the water, said Wahlers.
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