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Promoting safety on the Potomac River

Thursday - 5/24/2012, 4:16pm  ET

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This safety demonstration was conducted by Montgomery County, Md., Fairfax County, Va., and the National Parks Service in Thursday, May 24, 2012. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)
Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

GREAT FALLS, Va - It is one of the most beautiful spots in the region, the Potomac River at Great Falls. But it's also one of the most dangerous.

That's why rescuers from both Montgomery County, Maryland and Fairfax County, Virginia were joined by the National Park Service at the site to remind kayakers and canoers to follow the rules and stay safe.

Officials say 22 people have drowned in the river since 2001 and dozens have been rescued after boats overturned or someone went swimming illegally.

Betsy Train of Great Falls, Va., says even her husband, an experienced canoer, got into trouble and overturned last year. He was rescued late in the day along with his companion. They were found on opposite sides of the river clinging to floating debris.

Train says if you are going to the river, have a plan, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. It was the lack of a phone call that her husband had returned that prompted Train to call 911.

No one drowned in 2011 on the Potomac River for the first time in a decade. And the National Park service is hoping to continue that in 2012.

National Parks Service Spokesman Bill Line advises visitors not to go on the river in a kayak or a canoe without the with proper training, keep away from the shoreline if they are hiking and remember there is no swimming allowed. He says the current can pull a swimmer down in seconds.

Paul Shelp, from the Potomac Paddlers Volunteer Corps says people who go swimming are the biggest worry. "They don't appreciate the danger and they don't have a life jacket on," Shelp says.

The task force is set up to educate the public on the dangers of the river. There has been an increase in the number of thrill seekers in the last few years, they say. Most are teenagers or people in their 20's.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)