Shuswap River Ambassadors Kaitlin Mannnix (left)

Shuswap River Ambassadors Kaitlin Mannnix (left)

Ambassadors for the Shuswap

Shuswap River

  • Aug. 14, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Linda Wagensveld

Special to The Morning Star

Every year the Shuswap River takes her toll. From her long journey’s start at pristine Sugar Lake through Mabel Lake and her tumultuous rapids, her lazier leg through Enderby and Grindrod and then finally to lovely Mara Lake, drownings occur regularly and unexpectedly.

“Our goal is to educate river users about the hazards of being on a river and to encourage awareness and adoption of safe practices,” said Shuswap River Ambassador coordinator Madison Giesbrecht.

The Enderby and District Chamber of Commerce initiated the current ambassador program in 2010. The program is funded by the City of Enderby, the chamber, The Enderby & District Credit Union, BC Hydro, and The Regional District of the North Okanagan, to promote safety and respect for the river. Five days a week in July and August two teams of two trained Ambassadors move among 13 hand- launch sites stretching from Mabel Lake to Mara Lake. They try to intercept as many tube paddlers, paddle boarders and boaters as possible to offer information on the river.

“The river constantly changes,” said Giesbrecht. “This year it was 10.7 meters at its highest in Enderby. At high water there are additional dangers, it moves much faster and is much colder. July and August levels have been unusually high. Float times from Trinity Bridge to Enderby are usually seven hours at this time of year, but as of August 8 the same journey takes four and a half hours.

“We try to cover the busier sites: Trinity Bridge, Ashton Creek, Eby’s (near Watershed Road), and Belvedere Park (near The Enderby Chamber of Commerce Building). Other sites with less traffic we visit once a week.  We attempt to target all high traffic sites.”

Near the end of the day, the Ambassadors move to the farther sites to ward off any late launchers who may not realize that they would not be able to reach their destinations before dark.

Tuey Park, Eby’s, and Trinity Bridge are known to be less hazardous than upriver towards Mabel Lake where the current is swifter.

“The obvious hazard that everyone needs to avoid is the Scoocumchuk Rapids near Mabel Lake. These are the highest level of rapid and should only be attempted by experienced kayakers and decked canoeist.

“Other hazards include strong currents; even when the surface looks calm, there can be strong undercurrents. There are several submerged rock shelves which can pop your tube or even flip you over before you realize you’re going over them. After a rock shelf, a hole is created from the water being forced into the river bed. The water circulates here and it can be very difficult to get out of. These ‘hydraulics’ can occur after any drop-off in running water flow.”

Reading the river can reveal other dangers as well. For example, fallen trees near the water’s edge brush their branches into the current and cause eddies and undertows. These are called sweepers and are to be avoided at all times. Much like a sweeper, a log jam causes a strong undertow that can drag you underneath the surface.

“These hazards form where the current will naturally take you, so some paddling will be needed. It’s not a time to lay back and relax; you need to be alert and attentive.

“Also watch for submerged sandbars which can pop tubes, especially inexpensive ones, or scrape your legs and body. Watch for side channels that branch off to dead-end. You won’t get back out except by walking.”

Similarly, dead water is an area where two channels join, such as the one in Birchbark Park in Enderby.

“You should carry a paddle to get out of these.”

Accidents of all sorts have been reported: river users losing tubes and possessions, as well as minor and major injuries.

If you are thinking of consuming alcohol while floating, it is prohibited in public which includes the river. Finally watch for jet skis and boats, as some of them drive along quickly and don’t see tubers, swimmers or other recreational river users. Also remember it is now law to have a lifejacket and whistle with you while floating the river.”

A major increase in the recreational use of the river in the last three years has had repercussions. Pollution is also of great concern. Pollution includes popped tubes, garbage, cans and bottles.

“If you had scuba gear, you could drink all summer from what you find at the bottom of the river. And discarded bottles pose a risk for salmon fry; they swim into them and get stuck and die.”

The River Ambassadors work to promote proper garbage and recycling disposal.

The Enderby Chamber of Commerce has won The 2011 North Okanagan Regional Districts Environmental Leadership Award for its River Ambassadors Program and BC Rivers Day Clean up. As coordinator of the programs, Giesbrecht reminds river users to respect the inhabitants and communities of the river.

“Large wake boats affect the river’s ecology, such as wildlife feeding and watering, nesting birds and salmon spawning. As well, the banks are significant historical and cultural sites for the Splats’in First Nations and are adjacent to private residents and farms.

“Private property starts at high water. Treat the river as you would want someone to treat your own back yard.”