Brush up on river safety before floating or paddling

Before venturing onto the rivers and streams this summer, please take a moment to brush up on your river safety knowledge and skills.

The recent historic flooding caused rivers and streams in Missouri to rise to record levels, damaging and destroying roads, bridges, trails and structures.

Most of the 1.5-million-acre Mark Twain National Forest lies in southern and south-central Missouri where the greatest amounts of rain were recorded. The amount and intensity of the rainfall event resulted in extensive damage to many National Forest recreation sites, facilities, roads, dams and trails, especially areas located near rivers and streams.

Although recovery work is leading to many recreation sites re-opening, the rivers may still have new hazards like strainers and under-water debris that weren’t there just a few weeks ago.

The flood left new logjams and other obstacles in the waterways. The Forest Service and cooperators are working to clear out some of these obstructions, but there are more out there.

Chris Woods, Mark Twain National Forest’s Potosi-Fredericktown recreation officer and current incident commander, wants to share safety advice that he has gained over many years of being on and near the water.

“We can’t say enough about floater safety on our National Forest’s rivers and streams,” said Woods. “Knowledge is extremely important, and we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these river safety tips before venturing out.”

Here are a few tips he offered:

• Wear your personal flotation device (PFD). If you don’t wear it, it won’t work — that’s the plain and simple truth.

• Be aware of current river conditions. Rivers in the Ozarks can rise rapidly. If you’re a novice — or even an experienced — paddler, please take a look at the river before deciding to get on it.

Several were severely impacted by the flooding. Many have new gravel bars, logjams and other obstacles that present potential safety hazards to floaters.

• Be weather aware. Rivers are moving, living entities influenced greatly by weather. It is a good idea to check the weather before launching, especially if you are overnighting on a river.

• High water guidelines. Launching in high water or flood stage is a personal decision of risk that you must carefully make, especially if you have other people in your party.

Whatever the conditions, be sure your paddling and swift-water rescue skills are up to the challenge and that you are properly geared.

• Floating with children. Remember, the law requires children under the age of 12 to wear a PFD when floating. Floating a river with kids is entirely a personal decision.

No one can recommend to you whether you should or shouldn’t take them along on a float, as only you know your paddling skill level and your ability to handle whatever river conditions you are presented with, including dealing with obstacles.

Children can also be unpredictable in their movements or behaviors, so you also have to factor this into the equation.

• Cell phones on rivers. This is still rugged, remote country where cell service is very limited, especially down in river corridors. Also, there are no pay phones.

• Overnight canoeing trips. Even if the weather is predicted to be sunny and fair, it’s just a wise rule of thumb to set your campsite up on high ground with an escape route at your back.

You never know when weather occurring upstream will affect the water downstream. Also, don’t leave your boat and gear down by the river. Park them above your tent so that if the river comes up, your transportation doesn’t float away.

Here’s a handy “river-is-coming-up” tip: if you see a clear river beginning to cloud or debris such as leaves and limbs coming through, most likely the river is coming up and you should seek high ground immediately.

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