It is unlikely that WAPA employees go to work in the morning expecting to rescue others, but some days that is exactly what happens.
Staff members of the Colorado River Storage Project Management Center have come to the assistance of ill-prepared boaters on the Colorado River on a number of occasions this summer. The area has seen a massive spike in tourism—amounting to around 2 million visitors per year—which has led to there being many people on the river who do not understand the hazards and risks.
Early in the summer, CRSP MC employees helped kayakers to safety after a storm and rescued a man suffering from heat exhaustion. In August, Fishery Biologist Craig Ellsworth witnessed yet another river-safety incident during a research trip in Glen Canyon. While boating back from the dam after dark, he encountered two paddle boarders.
“They miscalculated the amount of time it would take to get back to the boat launch,” said Ellsworth. “They were paddling down the river in the dark with flashlights, but no life jackets.”
The visitors had entered what Ellsworth describes as a slough—a dead-end backwater—along the side of the river.
“They were confused about how to get out of the slough and back into the river,” he said, “and they were about to go through a slot in a cobble bar that was running pretty fast. In daylight it would have been easy to do, but at night with only a flashlight it would have been confusing and very dangerous.”
Ellsworth knew that it was important to intervene, as the visitors almost certainly did not know how much danger they were facing.
“If they had tipped over and become separated from their paddleboards, things could have ended up pretty badly, pretty quickly,” said Ellsworth. “We pulled up and asked if they needed help, which they initially declined.”
That’s when Ellsworth noticed the visitors were not wearing life jackets.
“When our boat driver saw they didn’t have life jackets on, he kind of flipped out on them,” Ellsworth said. “He said he was going to follow them down to our camp and put them on a boat and have someone drive them out.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what ended up happening. The unprepared visitors were not left to fend for themselves, instead receiving a lift to where they needed to go.
It is fortunate that Ellsworth happened to be in the area at that precise time. Like many other visitors to the park, the paddle boarders assumed they had things under control. Being demonstrably unprepared, though, it likely worked to everyone’s benefit that Ellsworth found them when he did.
It could have been a very different story if he had not.
Note: Reed is a technical writer who works under the Wyandotte Technology contract.