Innovative PFD loaner program on the Snake River is lifesaver

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are being made available as free loaners on a stretch of the Snake River thanks to the collaborative efforts of a handful of local organizations that came together in the name of safety.

Snake River Fund, led by executive director Jared Baecker, got the ball rolling when they approached Jackson/Teton County Parks and Rec, who manage recreational sites along the river. The idea was to provide PFDs at popular put-in ramps with floaters then turning the devices in downriver at take-out spots.

River recreation manager for Parks and Rec, Mike Estes, said he and Baeker researched the idea and found similar systems in place all over the US. Alaska alone has more than 500 of the programs in place along its stretches of wild rivers.

Together, Baecker and Estes reached out to the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation (Backcountry Zero) headed by Stephanie Thomas. The organizations contacted Sea Tow Foundation and applied for a grant to put free loaner flotation devices at three locations on the Snake—at the Wilson, South Park, and Astoria boat ramps. The grant was approved and Teton County recently received 54 Type 3 flotation devices.

These PFDs are available now through the end of the river running season. They have been put in place at South Park Boat Ramp with plans to expand to the other two popular locations within weeks.

“The stretch from South Park is the biggest place where we see the lack of PFDs,” Estes said.

In fact, on July 4, 2017, Oliver Walker Woodward, a 21-year-old from Georgia, went missing while floating that section of the river. His body was found eight days later. He was not wearing a PFD.

On July 8 of the same year Christopher J. Chapman’s boat flipped in a feature called Three-Oar-Deal. The 48-year-old’s body was recovered about an hour later. He was wearing a flotation device.

Kiosks will mark the location of the PFDs available for the using. They will be installed soon thanks to an outreach to the local Boy Scouts. Lachlan Brown agreed to construct two kiosks for the South Park and Astoria sites as part of his Eagle Scout badge project. The materials for the build were made available by the efforts of the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole.

So, no excuse not to be wearing your PFD. And it’s not good enough just having it in the boat or raft. Wear it! At a time when river use is at its highest, the new loaner program could save countless lives on the Snake River for years to come.

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