NPS closes Capitol Reef swimming hole; Currents dangerous
Following three near drowning incidents, the National Park Service announced July 19 that it has closed public use and access to the Fremont River Waterfall, located along State Route 24 in Capitol Reef National Park.
"While we certainly want to provide an enjoyable visitor experience in the park, our highest responsibility is to ensure a safe visitor experience," said Al Hendricks, park superintendent. "The three recent near drownings make it clear that there are serious, life-threatening conditions present at the waterfall for even strong swimmers."
The most recent incidents took place July 15 as a 12-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, Hendricks said. He said a 32-year-old male bystander noticed what was happening and entered the water to assist.
"He was quickly overcome by the flow as well and was under the water for nearly two minutes," Hendricks said. "Both the girl and the man eventually floated to the surface where additional bystanders pulled them to shore. Both were breathless and pulseless."
Hendricks said resuscitation efforts were initiated by a physician who happened to be on scene.
The first near drowning occurred June 20, when a 6-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, according to Hendricks. He said 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," Hendricks said. "By incredibly slim odds, there were two highly trained medical professionals at the waterfall and they rendered assistance."
The closure area extends from 100 yards upstream to 125 yards downstream of the waterfall and includes the waterfall parking area, according to Hendricks. He said the closure is intended to be seasonal and lifted when the weather is too cold for swimming.
Hendricks said the consensus to close the falls was reached after discussing the matter with park officials, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, local emergency services personnel and the Wayne County Commissioners.
The waterfall, located near milepost 86 on S.R. 24, was created in 1962 when the river was rerouted to accommodate the construction of the roadway, Hendricks said. He said the water feature has historically been an attractive site to swimmers and recreationists, but, over the years, the dynamics of the waterfall have changed as 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," Hendricks said. "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."