Ossipee — July 13, 2009 — Boaters need to use more common sense on the Bearcamp River, says West Ossipee Fire Chief Brad Eldridge. Eldridge is planning to meet with local canoe rental companies, New Hampshire Fish and Game and Marine Patrol officials to see if they can post some kind of warning to boaters when the river is hazardous.
The West Ossipee Fire Department was called twice recently to rescue people whose boats had capsized into the cold, rushing river. Eldridge said one of the rescues that occurred involved people who had only been in a canoe twice in their lives. This week he also had learned of several “self-rescues” that had occurred during the Fourth of July weekend.
“It’s so remote in areas,” he said Thursday. “If they can’t get to a phone quickly, they’re on their own.”
After heavy rains, when the river swells and is flowing many times faster than normal, people still take their kids and infants out onto the water. Eldridge said he often sees kids floating down the river in swimming-pool tubes without life jackets.
“Infants have no business being in that temperature of water,” he said. “I’m wondering what’s going through their minds, putting their families through that.”
He said the fire department was involved in a rescue a couple of years ago where some kids had gone down the river while it was pouring rain, without life jackets and wearing cut-up garbage bags for rain coats. “Common sense has to be exercised,” he said.
Once boaters row past the Route 25 bridge crossing, Eldridge said, “It’s another world.” The river always has debris in it, specifically trees that fall when the soil erodes. When the river is high and fast-moving, paddling around fallen trees is even more of a challenge.
“It’s not the place to be when it’s susceptible to flooding,” he said. “Trees change the current.”
He noticed that children often wear pool floats rather than life jackets on the river. Unsuspected branches under the water could easily pierce the pool floats, removing any source of protection for them.
Common sense not only applies to children, Eldridge said. “When you go on the river when it’s high and fast, have the proper equipment.”
Eldridge said local canoe liveries usually monitor the current flow of the river from the U.S. Geological Service’s station in South Tamworth. He hopes to meet with them, Marine Patrol and Fish and Game officials to figure out how to communicate with people about the dangers of the river.
“I don’t know about closing the river (during hazardous conditions),” he said. “It would be up to the state at that point.”
The best advice he could give to boaters is to ask their local officials whether it’s safe to go out on the river.
“If anyone has questions, they should contact their local officials — police and fire,” he said.