Editorial: Seeking safety in Deerfield River recreation
Recorder file/Paul Franz People keep cool on a hot day drifting down the Deerfield River in Deerfield. River traffic is leading to some parking problems and other behaviors that have required an increase in the police presence at Stillwater Bridge. Purchase photo reprints »
Town officials gathered last week to explore a public safety problem on the Deerfield River. This being summer, and people being people, the river can get a little wild, and not in the natural way.
Deerfield’s new police chief, John Paciorek Jr., opted this year to assign an officer to patrol the Stillwater Bridge area, where people floating downriver on tubes often end their excursions.
The chief acted because of complaints of littering, parking problems and general mayhem, as a relatively small river and small road are forced to keep up with all the people headed their way.
Last week, officials met with a company, Deerfield River Portage, that supplies large inflatable tubes for river recreation in an effort get a handle on how to make things a little more peaceful for neighbors and safer for all. We hope they keep talking, because this isn’t likely to be a quick fix.
Drinking is part of the problem. A few weeks ago, two fire departments and two ambulance companies went in search of a man who was seen unconscious on a rock beside the river.
It turned out he had been drinking heavily and fell asleep — while people who thought he was in danger spent hours looking. When located, he declined help. Perhaps he’s beyond it.
As people who have traveled this river know, some tubers consider a cooler of beer essential gear. It’s no surprise that excessive drinking clouds judgment and creates safety hazards.
There may be little police and municipal officials in Deerfield can do to get people to use common sense when out on a river. But surely they can influence, with the help of a company like Deerfield River Portage, how people find and use the river, and how they access areas like the Stillwater Road take-out zone. Deerfield has been putting up additional no-parking signs. That may help curtail use.
One of the owners of Deerfield River Portage told a reporter she remind her customers that they should know how to swim.
Amazingly, not all who decide to go tubing can indeed swim and are lulled by typically shallow water depths into thinking a river trip isn’t much different from settling into the sofa.
That’s just not true. Water releases change the depths daily and rocks can snag legs, making even shallow water dangerous.
The rub here is that while people are free to make their own mistakes, they want public resources there to save them. The Deerfield police department’s stepped-up patrols of the Stillwater area have cost the town more than $9,000 this summer. Responsible use of the river starts with the people who go out onto it.