Deadly Arkansas River rapid to remain unchanged
BUENA VISTA, Colo. – Despite calls to alter a portion of the Arkansas River that has claimed the lives of four boaters over the last decade, Colorado State Parks officials have decided against changing the Frog Rock rapid.
Officials will add a larger sign warning rafters about Frog Rock’s dangerous underwater sieve but will not change the rapid, according to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. Over the summer, Frog Rock claimed the life of a Breckenridge rafting guide whose body remained submerged for four months.
Rescuers last month had to build a temporary dam to retrieve the body of Kimberly Appelson, who was swept under on July 11. Appelson was wearing her life jacket when she was recovered Oct. 27.
The Frog Rock rapid in Chaffee County was also blamed for the deaths of 12-year-old Luca Angelescu in July 2000 and the deaths of Jennifer Down-Knorr, 36, and her husband Bernd Knorr, 39, in August 2001.
Some wondered whether Frog Rock, the deadliest spot on the most-rafted river in Colorado, should be permanently altered to make the popular rafting route safer.
Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, Appelson’s employer, never considered himself a proponent of changing a river, but has changed his mind.
“In this situation, we’ve done that for recreation. I don’t think it’s a jump to do it for a hazard,” said Bradford, referring to whitewater parks that have been built in cities along the river.
At rafting and boating message board mountainbuzz.com, rafters have suggested using dynamite on Frog Rock or yanking it from the river. Some have encouraged people to go out on their own and drop rocks in the river to plug the sieve.
“It’s not a natural way to go. You have to make an effort to stay left,” said Bob Hamel, with Arkansas River Tours in Cotopaxi and chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
But not everyone believes the rapid should be altered.
Terry Peavler, president of Chaffee County Search and Rescue North, argued that breaking up the rock or changing the river’s course could make the rapid more dangerous.
“The river is dangerous. The mountains are dangerous. The backcountry is dangerous,” said Peavler, incident commander of the recovery efforts. “People come up here, they get badly injured. They get killed. That’s a part of it. It just goes with it.”
Officials spoke with river managers and trade groups across the country, and found no evidence that altering a rapid makes it safer.
After officials built the diversion dam to allow divers to recover Appelson’s body, they restored the river’s natural course.
“The river is the way it is for a reason. The decision was made based on previous examples; we were not going to try and alter this rapid,” said Stew Pappenfort, park ranger with the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.
Pappenfort said parks officials will put additional, larger signs upriver by next spring, and brochures handed out to boaters will contain a warning about Frog Rock.
Appelson’s brother, Doug Appelson, told the newspaper in an e-mail that family members respect parks officials’ decision to leave Frog Rock alone.
“We think it is best to let the park service determine the best course of action for the river itself,” Appelson wrote. “That being said, it is absolutely necessary for there to be clear signage that the rapid is dangerous and that any raft or kayak should portage.”
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