Tricky section of Snake takes toll on boaters

JACKSON, Wyo. — It’s been busy lately for park rescue teams as eight incidents in the past month highlight the need for caution on the Snake River inside Grand Teton National Park.

It might be considered a scenic stretch of the river but authorities in Grand Teton are encouraging boaters to know their skill level and wear a personal floatation device (PFD) while recreating on the river.

Most of the incidents have occurred in the Bar BC area of the river. All ended with no injuries or casualties but there were several close calls. Several incidents resulted in capsized or pinned vessels that were resolved with the assistance of partners or by private boaters without the help of park personnel.

It is the Deadmans Bar to Moose Landing run that is proving the most accident-prone section of the river in Grand Teton. The river drops steeper here and the current increases. Only boaters with advanced skill levels should attempt this section due to the braided nature of the river, swift water, and midstream obstructions from log jams.

Several people have had their vessels submerged by or have been tangled up in these midstream log jams because they were boating outside their skill level. These instances can prove extremely dangerous and even fatal.

Recent incidents have also involved boaters who were making last-minute decisions. The river requires the ability to efficiently maneuver over tight quarters and anticipate routes well in advance. Sight lines are short and channel options that existed hours before may be blocked. Boat operators may need to stop the boat to scout and choose an appropriate route.

The use of personal floatation devices (PFDs) saved lives in recent incidents. During one of these incidents, both occupants of the boat hit a log jam and fell into the water. They were swept under the log jam, resurfaced, and were swept under a second time.

“The life jacket saved my life,” one individual stated after rescue.

Boaters may feel comfortable in the water and with their swimming abilities, but with cold water temperatures and fast-moving water, fatigue can quickly set in.

All boaters are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD of the appropriate size for each person on board. PFDs must be readily accessible and in good working condition. PFDs should be worn at all times while boating. All passengers age 12 and under are required to wear a PFD whenever a vessel is underway.

In addition to knowing one’s skill level and wearing a PFD, boaters should also check the weather forecast the day they plan to float the river. Once launched, it is difficult to turn back. Mountain weather is often dynamic and changes quickly.

Boaters are also reminded to tell someone where they are going and when they plan to return. If an accident or injury occurs, this information could prove vital if a rescue is necessary.

Upcoming closure

On Tuesday, September 1, Pacific Creek Landing, located just north of the Moran area, will be temporarily closed to all river users and visitors during construction activities this fall and possibly into spring 2021.

The National Park Service and Grand Teton National Park Foundation are working in partnership on a multi-year project, Snake River Gateways, to transform three river access sites along the Snake River. The project with enhance the visitor experience, improve safety, restore the resilience of riparian habitat, improve infrastructure, and emphasize accessibility for all.

During the temporary closure at Pacific Creek Landing, anyone putting in on the Snake River at Jackson Lake Dam will need to travel to Deadmans Bar, which requires an advanced skill set. River users may want to consider an alternate section of river or other recreational activities during this time.

 

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