Tim Chitwood

Warning: Whitewater is WILD! And dangerous

This photo from back in the spring shows people venturing to the edge of a rapid to fish.
This photo from back in the spring shows people venturing to the edge of a rapid to fish. Tim Chitwood/tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

One of my favorite park brochures comes from Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, where visitors at the gate got handbills warning that wild animals are wild.

That might sound redundant, but it is not. More people “than you might imagine” – as they say on TV – do not know that wild animals are wild. They think grizzly bears pose for selfies.

“Wild animals in National Parks are WILD!” the handbill says, indicating Canadians are unaware that to Southern North Americans those capital letters mean “Those animals are CRAZY, man! They are DOWN with it! They are WILD!”

Adds the park pamphlet: “Even in urban settings, wildlife may appear tame, but are UNPREDICTABLE and potentially DANGEROUS. It is IRRESPONSIBLE and UNLAWFUL to feed, trap or disturb wildlife in a national park.”

I wonder if our national park warnings bother to use “irresponsible” in capital letters. Seems like irresponsible is a given here. Maybe ours go right to “UNLAWFUL.”

“Large animals (bears, elk, moose, deer and bison) can be aggressive if approached,” reads the notice.

Did you know bears can be aggressive if you get in their face? More people than you might imagine are unaware of that. They think bears are like big stuffed animals, or like Baloo singing “Bear Necessities” in Disney’s “The Jungle Book.”

Those people need to see the documentary “Grizzly Man,” about a guy with that attitude. He gets eaten by bears.

“Maintain a distance of at least 30 metres (100 feet) from large animals and 50 metres (150 feet) from bears or bison at all times,” the handbill reads.

That’s going to be a challenge, if bison are charging at you, because they can run up to 35 mph.

“If you see animals at the roadside REMAIN IN YOUR CAR.”

National parks can put “remain in your car” in all caps all they want, and no tourist who sees a big wild animal by the roadside is going to remain in the car. Those people are going to pile out like a SWAT team. Some will forget that wild animals are wild, because when every cell phone is a camera, it’s go time.

Some people think all parks are theme parks. A whitewater rafting guide out West once told me of clients peering into the river to look for the cable the raft should be hooked to, on a park ride.

Close to home

Last week authorities here in Columbus sent out a reminder about the dangers our river poses to the reckless and unprepared.

Some of the risks it lists seem obvious to natives, especially to those of us who’ve been dunked like ragdolls on a rafting trip.

More people than you might imagine don’t realize that rushing water is dangerous, especially if its depth keeps changing. The Chattahoochee rises and falls like an irregular tide.

On our local warning list of river hazards, “rapidly rising water” from power generation is right under “swift moving water.”

Next comes “murky water which can obscure hazards and drop-offs,” followed by “Slippery Rocks.” Among the safety tips is, “Do not walk on slippery rocks.”

Or as they say in Canada, “Slippery rocks are SLIPPERY! It is IRRESPONSIBLE to walk on slippery rocks!”

Also on the list of safety tips: “Avoid alcohol when close to the riverbank.” So keep that in mind when you’re ordering drinks at the River Club.

Listed below dangerous undertows are “underwater stumps and strainers that can be littered with fishing hooks.”

The latter typically would not be on the maintained whitewater course, we should add, lest customers start searching the course map. (“Where are the stumps and strainers with hooks in them?”)

Lately authorities have been pressing charges against those who need rescue from the river, as more people than you might imagine ignore laws on staying off the rocks and wearing a life vest on the water.

Those people pay fines, so they don’t just get handbills warning them that whitewater is WILD water, and wild water is WILD, man!

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