Moving Forward with Tragic Loss on the Rivers


May 6, 2017


Staff, Board, and volunteers of WildPlaces offer sincere condolences to the families and friends of the drowning victims on the Tule and Kern Rivers during recent high waters. In addition to the loss of human lives, these accidents have tarnished the reputation of the rivers as places of respite and relaxation. Enforcement and management agencies will close many if not all sites including trails in an effort to "protect" the public. These sites (above and below "The Stairs") are the only free sites, which WildPlaces’ Rio Limpio Program adopted over 8 years ago in an attempt to increase personal responsibility and understanding of the critical role rivers play in our communities’ health.

Prior to these tragic accidents, WildPlaces’ position in light of increased use on the river and resulting environmental impacts plus reduced federal budgets was to agree to the temporary closure of no more than 1/3 of the sites, allowing WildPlaces to oversee the remaining. Now any such discussion will be difficult.

I don’t think that closing the sites entirely is the best response. What is needed is more, not less, exposure to and education about this single most important element of the region – the Tule and Kern Rivers. The last thing we want is for people to stop coming here. Already we are dealing with generational gaps in getting communities outdoors. Taking use away will only exacerbate the problem.

The Rio Limpio program has made significant headway by inspiring responsible recreation use. It is a progression of education that some feel will falter when access is denied.

In response to these recent events, WildPlaces will conduct Swift Water Safety workshop that are available to the public. Additionally, WildPlaces has secured financial support to design and strategically place signage that reminds folks that risks are present and how to manage those risks to reduce incident. The first workshop will occur on May 13th from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. during the annually scheduled two-day WildLeaders Guide Training in Springville held May 13 – 14, 2017. (See and fb for details and to sign up. Space is limited.)

This is an introductory workshop and is not to replace full Swift Water Rescue Training taught by certified trainers. The WildLeaders Training will also cover basic risk management in field settings, orienteering, and first aid. Cost is free to WildPlaces' volunteers and $10-25 (sliding scale) for all others. Participants must register by reaching Mehmet at 760.447.1702 and

We must always respect nature. With all the beauty and free serves provided by the river like air and water, we cannot simply close it off to the world. Let’s learn from this terrible sacrifice to become better, more prepared river warriors!