It’s been almost hard to recognize the Chena River this summer. Usually an easygoing stream that meanders through town lazily, the river this season has been transformed by persistent rain into something more closely resembling a miniature version of the Yukon. It’s swift, it’s deep, and there are few easy places to get out if you should fall in. As several people have learned this summer, that’s a dangerous combination.
There have been several well-publicized incidents this summer that highlight the potential dangers faced by those on the river as it swells to near flood stage — a pair of canoeists whose boat got sucked into a log jam around a Wendell Avenue bridge abutment and a man who jumped in from the pedestrian bridge just upstream from Pioneer Park and couldn’t get to shore spring to mind. And most recently, yesterday two men were seen in the river near Graehl Landing, with only one able to make it to shore. With water flowing swiftly at such high volumes, it’s easy to get into a lot of trouble in a hurry.
A few pieces of advice should be common sense for anyone on or around the river in its present state. For those in the vicinity of the river, be aware of your surroundings. Water has crept into areas you might not expect, as evidenced by the submerged pedestrian and bike path between the Cushman Street and Veterans Memorial bridges, and in other places the riverbank has become soggy and sometimes undercut by the current. For those that venture onto the river, life jackets — not just in your boat or watercraft but being worn by everyone on the water — are a necessity, as is a good understanding of where and how you plan to put in and take out.
Even when wearing flotation devices, if you find yourself in the water, taking proper action is imperative. It takes only minutes in the water before you start losing sensation and mobility in your extremities given the cold temperature of local rivers, and first responders estimate that survival time even if you stay afloat is no more than an hour. If you’re in the water, find a safe place to get out of the water and make sure you get there.
The Chena is usually a forgiving river, but in conditions like those we’ve experienced so far this summer, no river gives you much room for error. If you’re not confident of your abilities on or in the water, the best solution may be to stay on land when the water is high. And even if you are, make sure you’re prepared to deal with situations that you hope not to encounter. It’s always better to be ready for more than Mother Nature throws at you, especially in situations where fun can turn into trouble in a hurry.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,