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Photo by Mel Hunt

Genesee River Water Safety: Recent Tragedies Narrowly Averted

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Photo Courtesy of Genesee River Wilds

You’ve likely noticed that kayaking, rafting, floating, and canoeing are more popular than ever on the Genesee River. Since 2008 when a group of river lovers formed Genesee River Wilds, access to the river has improved annually. From GeneseeRiverWilds.com, a list of all the access points installed by the group:

” We have been working hard on opening River Access Sites since 2012. They are all now equipped with a kiosk and parking lot. There are now small brown kayak signs along NYS 19 helping you find the various locations also. From south to north the sites are as follows:

  • The newest site is at the Headwaters just south of the state border in Genesee, PA. – sponsorship TBD
  • Graves Road River Access Site – Provided by the NYSDEC
  • Jack Bridge River Access Site – Provided by the NYSDEC
  • Riverwalk River Access Park in Wellsville – sponsored by LC Whitford/Riverwalk Plaza
  • Scio River Access Site – Provided by the NYSDEC
  • Amity River Access Site on County Route 31 just off NYS 19 – Proided by Belmont Fire – sponsored by Nicholson’s Pharmacy in Belmont
  • Belmont River Access Site – Provided by Belmont Fire – located by the Falls in Belmont
  • Transit Bridge River Access Site in between Belfast and Angelica – Provided by Allegany County – Sponsored by Cuba, Fillmore & Fisher’s Pharmacies
  • Belfast River Access Park just east of the Hamlet of Belfast – Provided by Allegany County – Sponsored by Dan Demarte in honor
  • Caneadea River Access Site on NY 19 – Provided by Town of Caneadea – sponsored by Marshall Insurance Group”

The increased access to the river has made it very easy to make a day trip from Willing to Scio, or Belmont to Caneadea. With dozens, sometimes hundreds of river travelers per day in the summer, comes more accidents and emergencies. Just yesterday the specialized first-responders from the Scio Fire Department rescued three individuals from the water after a mishap.

That rescue came a day after a family friend had a harrowing crash into a deadfall near the Scio/Wellsville town line, maybe the same spot. In that instance the emergency was caused by a familiar scenario: A large tree lies in the water, semi-perpendicular to the flow of the river, creating a water vacuum effect. Unless the pilot of the vessel spots the deadfall, or had prior knowledge of the danger, it can be very hard to avoid. Many times the current forces a kayak or canoe into the deadfall, which often results in capsizing where the boat and its passengers get sucked into that vacuum. Because large deadfalls often create deep pools of water around them, with debris in the water, the danger is more extreme.

This has happened to me, maybe to you also? Several of my famous kayak crashes swept my entire vessel under the current and down river. It isn’t uncommon to find a canoe or kayak that is still stuck under a deadfall. Fortunately, like my friends experience, the tragedy was limited to some lost belongings. Had that little nine-year old girl drowned in that tragedy you can almost guarentee that measures would be taken to increase safety and prevent the loss of life.

I’m so glad she is ok and learned some valuable lessons. Having spent my life on the Genny and being a pretty experienced paddler, please take my suggestions on increasing safety:

  1. Establish a warning system for danger spots. Just like they put up flags on the beach for rip tides or sharks, lets use the existing system of river access points to provide some warning. Volunteers could also regularly survey the river and place warning flags before and at danger points.
  2. Mandate life jackets, beg people to wear them, make that message a priority. Regardless of the incident while paddling, this is the life/death factor for beginners and experts. Perhaps hold a few outreach events on busy river traffic weekends.
  3. An App! In similar fashion to the interactive maps we all use to travel, provide an online portal. This can highlight potential danger areas, faster water, and even cool places to stop for a rest or a swim?

This river is our biggest asset and lifeblood of our county and many little river towns. The Genny is also an extremely powerful force and demands our utmost respect. I hope you are planning a float this summer before water levels traditionally drop below the point of navigability(usually by August). Please keep my little friend in mind and be aware that a trip down the mighty Genesee has real dangers.

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