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Popular Swimming Area At Capitol Reef National Park Closed Due To Dangerous Conditions

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Capitol Reef officials have closed the Fremont Falls area to swimming due to the dangerous conditions created by this year's tumultuous runoff. Julie Trevelyan photo.

A popular swimming hole in Capitol Reef National Park has been closed for the rest of the summer due to torrential runoff that has created extremely dangerous conditions for swimmers.

Fremont Falls, located about six miles east of the park's visitor center on Highway 24, has witnessed three-near fatalities already this summer, according to park officials. As a result, several area agencies, as well as the Capitol Reef superintendent and the Wayne County (Utah) sheriff, have deemed the falls and their pool too great of a risk to public safety to remain open to swimming.

Created in 1962 by diverting the Fremont River from its natural bed, the original Fremont Falls stretched out approximately 100 feet wide as a thin skiff of water flowing over an underlying sandstone rock formation.

But after decades of erosion caused by natural water action, the Fremont Falls of today channels rapidly through a markedly narrower crevice. As with many waterfalls, the sections immediately above and below the fall itself pose serious threats to swimmers due to the strength of the water's pull.

Three recent near drownings -- on June 20 and July 15 -- prompted the official closure of the falls. Two of the victims were children, and one an adult who jumped in to save one of the children. None of three was breathing, nor did they have a pulse, upon being removed from the water. They were flown to hospitals in northern Utah and, somehow, all three survived with no apparent lasting effects.

“While we certainly want to provide an enjoyable visitor experience in the park, our highest responsibility is to ensure a safe visitor experience," says Capitol Reef Superintendent Al Hendricks. "The three recent near-drownings make it clear that there are serious, life-threatening conditions present at the waterfall for even strong swimmers.”

The extended closure will be lifted when the weather is too cold for swimming. Looking down the road, park officials are looking to reroute the river back to its original streambed next year.

Comments

wow, all three back from the dead... this seem to be becoming more and more common these days.


The waterfall was not closed "due to torrential runoff that has created
extremely dangerous conditions for swimmers." It was closed because conditions there are
dangerous, even at normal flows. There's no doubt that conditions there
are hazardous during flash floods (as shown in the photo in your
article), and there's no doubt that the presence of people at the falls
during floods is a concern. The flow rate at the time of the three
near-drowning incidents was above average, but was nothing approaching
torrential.


Anon is correct. While the heavy water flow following spring runoff and the flash floods added to the problem, it was a dangerous area even on calm days. So many people broke their legs, arms, or even their necks while illegally jumping off the falls. It became a law enforcement nightmare and many rangers spent hours down there just making sure people were following the rules and as a result they weren't able to focus on the rest of the park. Below is the official press release:
Following three recent near-drownings, the National Park Service has closed the Fremont River Waterfall to public use and access.

The waterfall located near mile marker 86 on State Highway 24 in Capitol Reef National Park was created in 1962 when the river was rerouted to accommodate the construction of Highway 24. This water feature has historically been an attractive site to swimmers and recreationists. The dynamics of the waterfall have changed over the years, and the river has cut a narrow channel in the soft sandstone. This has increased the velocity of the river and created a hazardous water filled slot above, and a dangerous plunge pool beneath, the falls.

On June 20, 2011, a six year old boy visiting with his family from Wisconsin entered the water, was drawn under the falls, and was quickly pulled under the surface and held there by currents. The boy was under the water for several minutes before his father found him under the surface. When pulled to the shore the boy was not breathing and had no pulse. By incredibly slim odds, there were two highly trained medical professionals at the waterfall and they rendered assistance. After about one minute of CPR, the boy was revived. An air ambulance helicopter was summoned and he was flown to Salt Lake City and has recovered.

On July 15, 2011 a twelve year old girl from California was pulled by the strong currents under the surface while swimming and remained under the water for approximately three minutes. Noticing the emergency, a thirty two year old male bystander from Utah entered the water to assist. He was quickly overcome by the flow as well and was under the water for nearly two minutes. Both the girl and the man eventually floated to the surface where additional bystanders pulled them to shore. Both were breathless and pulseless. In this instance, CPR was initiated by a physician who happened to be on scene. Both victims eventually regained consciousness and, once again, both were flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City where they recovered.

Among the circumstances that create hazardous swimming conditions near the waterfall are the aerated water and the strong currents in the plunge pool. The water at the base of the falls is highly mixed with air causing it to lose the buoyancy of non-aerated water, causing even strong swimmers to sink. In addition, strong currents in the pool pull swimmers into the falls.

Mindful of the recent serious incidents, as well as numerous additional incidents over the past several years, the park Superintendent, the Wayne County Sheriff, the Wayne County Emergency Services Director, and the Wayne County Commissioners have arrived at a consensus concerning the wisdom of closing the waterfall area to use. Park Superintendent Al Hendricks said: "While we certainly want to provide an enjoyable visitor experience in the park, our highest responsibility is to ensure a safe visitor experience. The three recent near-drownings make it clear that there are serious, life-threatening conditions present at the waterfall for even strong swimmers."

The Superintendent has determined that the closure area shall extend from one hundred yards upstream to one hundred and twenty five yards downstream of the waterfall and includes the waterfall parking area. The closure is intended to be seasonal and lifted when the weather is too cold for swimming.


I would like to know of the dates and exact incedents the Lady Ranger is refering to.  I don't believe a word she is saying.  For example I live in this Community and there has NEVER been a report of anything other than slight injuries, no broken necks.  There were they few incidents this past summer 2011 that made Statewide news of new drowning.  However that happens in every water area in the State...  If there were MANY issues there should have been reports and notifications to Wayne County Residence and Tourist visiting the Park.  I would appreciate the details on said Many Broken necks, date, and times would be helpful.
Thank You,
Taralyn Howard


Taralyn, I'm sorry you don't believe me, but what I wrote is true. There were cases of 3 broken bones in one summer alone. One young boy broke both his ankles jumping off the water fall. I do not have the authority to give any dates or times but you can contact the park if you would like more information and you can be directed to the person who does have authority.


Haven't visited Capitol Reef but do know half a dozen (or more) hikers die in the Grand Canyon every year and no one's asking to close it to hikers.  BTW, in 105 years of mule rides into the Canyon there has never been a mule related death of a visitor on a commercial mule ride yet the rides were cut back by 75%.  Just saying...


Natural areas within National Parks usually are not closed, but the waterfall at Capitol Reef is man-made. It doesn't belong in the first place and, besides being dangerous, is causing a lot of ecological issues. 

I just found out why this article is suddenly getting attention after 3 months. It was mentioned in a Letter to the Editor in the local paper that was against the waterfall closure. 


Anonymous:
Natural areas within National Parks usually are not closed, but the waterfall at Capitol Reef is man-made. It doesn't belong in the first place and, besides being dangerous, is causing a lot of ecological issues.

  A lot of natural areas get closed. There's a research area within Haleakala. Yellowstone NP closes off direct access to geothermal areas for safety reasons. Swimming or wading above certain waterfalls is prohibited; anyone remember what happed above Vernal Fall last summer? If you add NPS units with other designations, there are periodic closures due to wildlife behavior.

There's a whole lot of man-made areas too which theoretically don't belong. Some of them (especially dams) make some NPS units desirable for recreation.  One of them might be the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but boating and swimming there is prohibited.


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