PHOTO: A sign at the Little River Canyon National Preserve warning visitors not to enter the water near the falls. Park officials confirmed today that the swimming holes have been reopened after being closed earlier this week. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Despite swimming holes being closed at the time our weekly paper went to print yesterday, park officials reopened the swimming holes earlier today.
By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — The Little River Canyon Center has confirmed that the park’s swimming holes have been reopened, after being closed earlier this week.
The closure comes after an 18-year-old teen drowned near the G.E. Hill bridge last Friday (June 2) in the Little River Canyon (LRC) National Preserve, just across the DeKalb County line in Cherokee County. The incident occurred around 1:30 – 2 pm. The victim was an 18 year old male from Adairsville, Georgia and the body was recovered Friday (June 2) at approximately 3:15 pm.
The Fort Payne Police Department, Fort Payne Fire Department, and the Fischer Rescue Squad responded to the scene after receiving the call from dispatch. The Cherokee County Rescue squad also dispatched a dive team to recover the body after being notified by the Alabama Highway Patrol.
According to rescuers, the teen was swimming with friends, became fatigued, and slipped under the surface. When he failed to surface, the others notified emergency services.This is the second death in Little River Canyon this week, with a photographer falling near the falls earlier last week.
Last Saturday (a day after the drowning), another swimmer was rescued after becoming fatigued. The river had become more dangerous recently after the heavy spring rainfalls have the water level high, and the current swift. Three others were reportedly rescued in similar situations since the Saturday before the Memorial Day Holiday.
Last summer, Little River suffered from a lack of water and wildfires due to the severe drought; this year, it seems the problem is too much water.
Steve Black, Superintendent of the Little River Canyon Center, pointed out the hidden dangers:
"We judge it by the cubic feet per second, though it's not scientific. Some of it is just watching information. If people are being knocked over due to the flow, then it's probably not a good time to be swimming," said Black.
"The Saturday before memorial day, we did numerous rope rescues," stated Black. "People underestimate the flow of water. If you go to the USGS gauge, you'll see the average for today normal is 59 cubic feet (per second), and right now we are flowing at 654 (cubic feet per second)."
Black related that people should use caution and common sense when it comes to swimming in LRC, especially when the rains have been heavy and the current is moving at a higher speed than normal.
"There needs to be some personal responsibility and some thinking going on. People aren't taking into account what's underneath the water and how fast it's moving," said Black.
Black also pointed out that their are slower moving areas past the falls that are less hazardous, such as Canyon Mouth Park, where the river is wider; resulting in a slower current.
It's important to point out, while I was down at the river earlier today (June 8) taking photos, on the surface the river didn't seem that dangerous. But as Black pointed out, the river can be deceiving.