The Columbia River Gorge is known to be an attractive site for visitors. Beyond the recent holiday weekend, the area is expected to remain busy, with parks open during the pandemic.
Because of this, government agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Bonneville Lock and Dam, are asking visitors to public parks and recreation areas to follow a small set of tips for safety at recreation areas and especially on the water.
Park rangers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are reminding the public to be aware of these important tips for water safety:
Plan ahead. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns, parks around the area are providing different level of services to the public. This may include restrooms, play structures, swim beaches, and life jacket loaner boards. Call ahead and look up your destination online to confirm your access to services at different parks.
Bring your own supplies, including hand sanitizer and face masks.
Overcrowding is a concern some weekends because not all parks have reopened.
Wear a life jacket. “Life jackets save lives. Wear if for your family, for your kids, for your dog! Go home safe!”
If someone is drowning and needs help: Reach, Throw, Row, Don’t Go.
Respect active burn bans (and plan ahead by researching if there is an active burn ban in the area you are visiting).
Leave it better than you found it and pick up your trash.
Respect park closures.
“We’re fortunate here in Oregon to have all sorts of beautiful resources, not least of which is the Columbia River. It’s a great place for friends and folks to have fun, enjoy it with their friends and family but unfortunately there’s some risks associated with enjoying that resource and so we want to make sure that people come out and have a good time and not have anything bad happen to them, like drowning,” said Park Ranger Monty Biggs.
Biggs stressed the importance of coming prepared to a travel destination.
“We’re in an unprecedented environment right now with the COVID-19 pandemic going on. Thankfully it looks like our numbers are going down in the region, but it’s not going away. It’s something that we all have to do our part … That means that coming out to recreation areas like this, you need to be prepared with your own hand sanitizer, make sure you wear your mask,” Biggs said.
Biggs said hiking trails sometimes do not provide the setting for social distancing, so “you want to make sure even when you’re out here in the wilderness area you’re carrying and wearing your mask.”
Call ahead or look up on the website to identify which services are still available at your destination, Biggs said.
Dam officials emphasized that water safety is critical in the recreational area. Drownings are on the rise this year and water safety in the time of COVID-19 is a major concern for Corps park rangers, said Corps officials in a press release.
In an interview, Natural Resource Specialist Mason Scharpfe explained how wearing the proper equipment could be beneficial for those recreating this weekend.
“A lot of people think life jackets are bulky and shouldn’t be worn or can’t be worn for the activity they’re doing, but that’s not true. There’s a variety of life jackets out there for any kind of activity, whether that is sailing, boating, fishing and any other kind of watersports,” Scharpfe said.
Some life jackets inflate using a ripcord, and others have auto inflation technology, for example. Make sure you are wearing lanyards and leashes for watersports that require those, Scharpfe said.
“Make sure to always wear a life jacket when out in the water,” he continued.
Most adults who drown in open water knew how to swim and either exceeded or overestimated their ability to swim, Public Affairs Specialist Amber Tilton told Columbia Gorge News.
“Most people drown 6-feet from safety and many who drown never intended to get into the water. Diving into unknown waters, changing depths because of seasonal changes or due to dams, current, undertow, cold water, wind, other boaters, and many more conditions to consider when swimming in open water. People can become exhausted and fatigued more easily. They overestimate their swimming abilities,” Tilton said.
Biggs demonstrated the “Reach, Throw, Row, Don’t Go” rule for help when you see someone drowning. You can use a pike pole, or a gaffing stick, or you can row out to someone who is drowning using a paddle, said Biggs. He demonstrated the throwing concept using a throwback, a device on Corps patrol boats that help keep people drowning afloat.
“It’s really important to throw it past the individual and you want it to be on the upstream said of them,” Biggs said.
He stressed not to go into the water to save someone.
“We have had circumstances where people have actually drowned trying to save someone,” said Biggs.
For more water safety information visit www.PleaseWearIt.com and follow Please Wear It on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.