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.