A
teenage girl was drowned on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State
Park, Pennsylvania, on July 9th. She was on a commercial raft trip
when she was thrown from her boat at Dimple Rock Rapid. After
recovering her body the following day, park authorities said the
accident was a classic foot entrapment.

Doug
Hoehn, superintendent of the park, caused a minor panic for some
Pittsburgh area boaters when he appeared on local TV news, saying
he’d closed Dimple to rafting and asked the Army Corps of Engineers
to help make the rapid safer. Unwittingly, he raised the specter of
a many years old rumor that the Army Corps wants to “tame”
Dimple rapid using dynamite and/or heavy equipment. Fortunately, all
they did this time was to lower the water level for a day so that
park rangers could remove tree limbs and other snags from the river
bottom.

Dimple
rapid is famous for thrashing inexperienced rafters. Each summer
weekend, hundreds of them experience a long, bumpy swim while
spectators cheer from the nearby “Vulture Rocks.”

The
accident at Dimple will be repeated. And when it is, the call to
tame the rapids will be heard again. I think that sentiment is
misguided. Deaths at Ohiopyle are always tragic, but the tragedy
isn’t caused by the rapids. It’s caused by the thousands of
ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and inexperienced thrill seekers who
“ride” them each summer as if they were visiting some kind
of amusement park.

When
I learned that the Army Corps was at Ohiopyle and I didn’t yet know
their plan, I wrote letters to the Pennsylvania Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources, and I encouraged others to do the
same. The DCNR’s mission is supposedly to protect and preserve
natural, historical, and recreational resources in our state. I
acknowledged that some improvements must be made in order to make the
parks accessible, but I begged them to consider each one carefully.
I suggested that each manmade change in the river is a step taken
away from nature, and toward an experience I can get at any
commercial water slide park.

Most
of the deaths that have occurred on the Yough have involved the
paying customers of raft rental liveries and guided tour companies.
Many would have been prevented if the companies had simply issued
helmets in addition to all the other gear. More of them might have
been prevented if the rental liveries were even slightly selective
about who they’ll entrust a raft to. When the call to make the river
safer is next heard, I hope that other boaters will write to park
officials saying, “No! Make the outfitters safer if you want
to, but leave the river alone.”


From “The Cruiser”, newsletter of the Canoe Cruisers
Association of Washington, DC.
By Jim Large

Reprinted
in The Eddy Line, November 1996