Pleasant Twp. deals with dangers at Darby

 Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
 Trapper John’s Canoe Livery allows people to rent canoes and paddle down the Darby. It has had to close several times this season due to high water levels. Still, some do not take the advice and get on the river regardless. The Pleasant Township Fire Department has already made a record number of water rescues this season.

Summer is the time to get outdoors for a little adventure.

One popular destination for outdoor adventure is Trapper John’s Canoe Livery where people can rent canoes, kayaks and tubes to navigate the waters of the Big Darby.

"I would estimate we get thousands of people looking to rent a canoe or kayak when we’re open for the season," said Jason Kaufman, owner and operator of Trapper John’s in Pleasant Township.

Paddle sports are regarded as a fun, non-environmentally damaging, and an inexpensive way to pass the day, but there are dangers.

Torrential rainfalls in June has caused Kaufman to close Trapper John’s for 10 days over the course of the month, but that has not stopped people from trying their luck with the river.

"I guess when people realize that we’re closed for the day, they think it’s a good time to go into the water," Kaufman said. "The only time we close is during bad weather and when the water is too high. That water is nothing to mess around with, so we close for a reason."

The Pleasant Township Department recently had to launch a boat out to rescue two teenagers who did not heed the ‘closed due to high water’ sign.

"The water was very fast that day," said Pleasant Township firefighter Jeremy Johnson. "We had a big storm the day before which caused the water to rise above its normal levels. They didn’t get further than 20 or 30 yards out before their boat capsized."

According to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Boating Accident Report Database (BARD), from the years between 1996 and 2002, 574 fatalities associated with canoes and kayaks were reported.

Of that data, 72 percent of those fatalities were associated with canoes, and 28 percent of the fatalities were associated with kayaks. Capsizes were the cause for 76 percent of those deaths.

Because the crafts are relatively small and narrow, they require special attention to issues such as balance and wave action. Inexperienced paddlers often make the critical mistake such as standing in or leaning over the edge of the canoe, which can change the center of gravity and increase the likelihood of a capsize.

Also according to the BARD, 85 percent of all fatalities were because the person was not wearing a lifejacket.

"We give lifejackets to everyone that rents a canoe and kayak," Kaufman said. "I recommend they wear it at all times, but some do not, and that’s not very smart of them."

Neither of the two teenagers rescued from the Darby were wearing a lifejacket.

While the township’s fire department makes four or five water rescues per year, they have already reached that total this summer alone and all have been non-fatalities. Of Johnson’s four years with the fire department, he has only experienced one fatality and that occurred in May of 2007.

A 30 year-old man who had been drinking on a canoe with friends, which is strictly prohibited at Trapper Johns, fell into the cold river and drowned. He was also not wearing a life jacket.

"For the most part I would say the people who rent from us abide by the rules," says Kaufman, "but you should never take the river for granted. It’s nothing to underestimate."

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