Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are reminding visitors that water recreation is not recommended in the Park due to numerous hazards and dangers. Weather forecasts for the Fourth of July holiday week include heavy rain and thunderstorms which can cause river levels to rise rapidly.
Serious water-related injuries occur each year in the Park including fatalities. Over the last several weeks, Smokies park rangers have participated in multiple river rescues with local swift water rescue squads primarily involving visitors floating on inner tubes. In March, the Park suffered a water-related fatality when a visitor from Ontario was swept downstream after his kayak capsized in Little River near the Sinks.
“With the forecast of rain throughout the week, I encourage all visitors to be extremely cautious around rivers as conditions can change unpredictably. We want all our visitors to have a memorable experience in the park that is both enjoyable and safe,” said Acting Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.
In June, rangers responded to several tubing accidents in Deep Creek in North Carolina and Little River near the Townsend Wye and Elkmont in Tennessee. On Friday, June 29, a group of six tubers including four adults, a six-year old child, and a two-year old child were rescued after they were stranded on the opposite side of the river. The Townsend Volunteer Fire Department’s swift water rescue team led rescue efforts with park rangers to safely bring the group across the river which was a foot above normal due to heavy rains.
In addition, rangers have also responded to several incidents where visitors attempted to cross swollen rivers and became stranded on boulders in the river channel or on the opposite bank. Visitors are cautioned that river levels can rise rapidly when thunderstorms strike the Smokies. Visitors should alter their routes to avoid crossing any rising river by waiting until the river has receded or returning by another route.
For more information about water safety in the Park, please visit the Park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/watersafety.htm.