Sheriff mulls Eagle River boating ban |

Sheriff mulls Eagle River boating ban

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Greater Eagle firefighters work to get instructor Mike Mather out of the water in a training exercise last year. Firefighters have not been able to do whitewater rescue training yet this year due to high water, but plan to do so next week, said Deputy Chief Chris Blankenship of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District. (Contributed photo)

EAGLE, Colo. ” The Eagle River is running fast and high ” so much so that the Eagle County sheriff has talked about whether to ban boaters from running it.

Water levels on some stretches of the Eagle River have reached their highest points in a decade and as many calls have been made about reported boating accidents so far this year as were made all of last year in Eagle County, authorities say.

“We have definitely been busy,” said Shannon Cordingly, spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

Talks at the Sheriff’s Office about banning people from running the river followed an accident earlier this week in which 19 rafters were dumped out of their boats in the Eagle River near the Eagle County Fairgrounds.

“It’s not just that incident,” Hoy said. “As you know, we’ve had several.”

Hoy hasn’t closed the river to boaters yet, but “this is really getting to be a serious situation,” he said.

Mountain rivers are at their highest levels in 10 years, said Jeff Colton, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. But the Eagle River should start receding by mid-June, he said.

“Most of our rivers have hit their seasonal peaks,” except the Crystal River near Carbondale, Colton said.

In the next 10 days, most of the Eagle River won’t change much, except that it’s was expected to rise Thursday in Avon and drop Friday in Red Cliff, where flood advisories had been issued, Colton said.

This summer, flooding in the Eagle River may only occur with a prolonged period of 80-degree weather or heavy rains during monsoons, he said.

Not only are the Eagle River’s rapids treacherous, but cold water can put people at risk of hypothermia if they stay in the water too long.

A boy who fell into the river for “moments” in Monday’s rafting accident was “shaking uncontrollably” and was considered to have “mild hypothermia,” said Deputy Chief Chris Blankenship of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District.

Without a wetsuit and depending on their physical makeup, a person can get hypothermia in as quickly as several minutes in the 40- to 45-degree water, Blankenship said.

“The trick when you get in is just to get out as quickly as possible ” safely of course,” he said.

Less experienced tourists should chose a raft company that goes on the river every day, he said. Guides know how to keep people safe, he said.

“They can’t guarantee it of course,” he said.

More experienced boaters should know their limits, dress warmly and bring the right equipment, such as a good life jacket, a helmet and a whistle to blow in case of trouble, he said.

Take a river rescue class at Colorado Mountain College or a kayak class, he advised.

If you’re not highly proficient, wait for later in the year for calmer waters on the Eagle River, he said.

“We still have a lot of water left and it’s going to be a great summer,” Blankenship said.

Some stretches of Gore Creek in Vail and on the Colorado River around State Bridge to Dotsero are calmer, he said.

Go with someone who’s done those stretches before and scout out the unfamiliar before you run the river, he said.

Boaters also should have a “throw bag” with around a 70-foot-long rope inside that can be thrown to someone stranded in whitewater. Once the person grabs hold, the rope swings like a pendulum and the current brings that person to shore.

“Just have really good respect for the power of the water and use good common sense,” he said.