Friday, June 25, 2021
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Opinion: Close call unnecessary

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | June 9, 2021 6:40 AM

I was looking for birds along McDonald Creek the other day when there was this commotion upstream.

A kid on his paddleboard had gone into the creek after hitting a sweeper along the bank and was struggling to get back on it. The board was stuck in the branches and the kid was clinging to it for dear life.

I ran up the bank but by the time I got up there the kid (maybe 11 or 12, he was) had managed to get back on the board and was floating downstream, looking like a drowned rat.

The water temperature was hovering around 40.

The kind of water that makes your bones ache and takes your breath away.

The kid didn’t have a lifejacket on.

His father (I can only assume it was his father) was downstream a bit, sitting on his paddleboard with a young child between his legs — she was maybe 4, maybe less.

Dad had on a lifejacket, but I couldn’t tell if the little girl did or not. I wanted to light into the father, but it was pretty obvious the current was going to sweep them downstream pretty quickly anyway. Dad was trying to paddle upstream to get to the soaking wet boy, but not having much luck. I would have called Park rangers, but I forgot my phone. They must have made it downstream OK, because I didn’t see any drowning notices in the police logs the next day, but man, what a dumb thing to do.

Lower McDonald Creek right now from the lake to the Middle Fork is extremely high and unlike other rivers and streams, when runoff happens it typically doesn’t turn brown, it just gets deep and is deceptively placid looking, but make no mistake, that water is cooking

with gas. The other day I was filming some warblers, standing in a trail that normally is high and dry. I was almost up to the proverbial jewels just two steps onto the flooded trail. Sheesh.

There are plenty of places just off shore that are placid 11 months out of the year, but are well over your head now. Couple that with clear water and it’s an illusion. You can see the bottom as clear as day, even though it’s well over your head.

Still, I see plenty of folks not wearing lifejackets like the young man above. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for lifejackets.

A buddy and I went for a similar canoe trip down a river in my youth and the water was so deep we had to duck to get under bridges.

We ended up dumping the canoe and went for a swim. There was still snow on the ground. It was cold, but we survived because of lifejackets.

Please put a lifejacket on yourself and your kids when you go out. They make them now so they only weigh about a pound and they give your arms free movement. I’m getting tired of writing about drownings. —— On a brighter note, I hope School District 6 continues to hold graduation outside unless it’s absolutely going to rain. It’s much more pleasant outdoors and a little breeze never hurt anyone (though it did ruffle a few ‘dos.)

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.