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Daily Journal
     August 10, 2021      #24-222 KDJ
 

Beware of the river; respect the river 

By Jeff Bonty
jbonty@daily-journal.com


KANKAKEE — Don’t let the calm of the Kankakee River fool you.

The unknown under the surface can spell trouble for those enjoying the river.

“The river needs to be respected. The river demands respect,” Illinois Conservation Police Officer John Faber said.

In 2020, Farber and fellow CPO Brian Elliot were part of search teams that worked the river for two separate drowning incidents.

One involved two men who fell into the river after their boat experienced mechanical troubles.

Signs posted on the South Washington Avenue bridge warn boaters of the dangers of getting close to the dam along East River Street.

Farber pointed out there is an area along an area fenced off by the hydroelectric plant that provides good fishing.

The other drowning involved two men searching the bank near Hide’s Hole on the north side of the river near the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency treatment plant.

Hide’s Hole is about 15 feet to 20 feet deep when the river is high, Farber said.

The current in and around Hide’s Hole is strong. It can even toss an airboat around.

Currently, the river level is lower than it was in June and early July, when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources closed the river for several days due to dangerous conditions.

At this time of summer, Farber said the river by the Kankakee River State Park and Warner Bridge Road is shallow. The rock bottom can be seen.

That fact still doesn’t mean it is good to wade into the water without wearing a flotation device. That advice also goes for boating, canoeing or kayaking.

Another dangerous spot on the river is Devil’s Hole. It is located approximately one-third of a mile downstream of Kankakee River State Park Area No. 2 on the Illinois Route 113 side of the river.

Farber took a Daily Journal reporter on a tour of the river in an airboat last week.

Guiding the airboat as it idled over the hole, it tossed it from side to side.

“There is a reason it is named Devil’s Hole,” Farber said.

In late June, rescue personnel was called to Rock Creek in the state park for a missing kayaker.

Two of the kayakers went over the waterfall. They became concerned when the third one did not show up.

Fortunately, that person decided not to go over the falls. They were able to get out and walk to the concession stand and contact authorities.

Chief Scott O’Brien, of the Manteno Fire Protection District, said the attributes of the river change from place to place. People need to be aware of that.

Both Kankakee hospitals along with local law enforcement agencies and fire departments teamed up to provide safety tips.

Many victims of water-related accidents were not trying to swim, but were simply engaging in activities as innocent as wading, taking photos or playing along the river bank, they said in a release

Those victims attempting to swim in swift waters overestimated their swimming ability and underestimated river currents and those wading in the river weren’t aware of the dangerous drop-offs or holes in the river bed.

None of these drowning victims suspected that tragedy was about to overwhelm them, the release said.

Here are some of the tips they offered:

• Rivers and streams can still have dangerous currents when the water levels are low.

• Slippery rocks, an unstable shoreline or even a distraction that takes your focus away from the water, can cause an accident — quickly and quietly.

• Check river and stream conditions before heading out on your adventure and always let someone know where you are going and when you will return.

• Follow “No Swimming” signs and any other posted signage in recreation areas.

• Where allowed, choose swimming areas carefully. Often hazards are not visible in what may seem like a good place to swim or wade.

• Wear a properly fitting personal floatation device (life jacket) for all river activities. Don’t assume you have the swimming skills to keep you afloat, even the strongest swimmers can drown.

• Be particularly cautious near dams, there can be many hazards caused by water flows, human activities, environmental factors, and the structures themselves and the back current can pull you in. Kankakee and Wilmington dams have had multiple incidents over the years, some fatal.

Danger areas on the Kankakee River

Areas where there have been known accidents in the Kankakee River include:

• Hide's Hole, near the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency treatment plant

• Devil's Hole, approximately 1/3 mile downstream of Kankakee River State Park Area No. 2 on the Illinois Route 113 side of river

• Rock Creek, located near the concession stand and suspension bridge at the mouth of Rock Creek on the Illinois Route 102 side of Kankakee River State Park

• Indian Caves, located along the Perry Farm trail.

• Kankakee Dam

• Wilmington Dam

• Momence Dam

Water, boating safety tips

Here are some tips to keep you safe.

•  Rivers and streams can still have dangerous currents when the water levels are low

•  Slippery rocks, an unstable shoreline or even a distraction that takes your focus away from the water, can cause an accident — quickly and quietly

•  Check river and stream conditions before heading out on your adventure and always let someone know where you are going and when you will return

• Follow "No Swimming" signs and any other posted signage in recreation areas

• Where allowed, choose swimming areas carefully. Often hazards are not visible in what may seem like a good place to swim or wade

• Wear a properly fitting personal floatation device (life jacket) for all river activities. Don't assume you have the swimming skills to keep you afloat, even the strongest swimmers can drown

• When near rapids or other moving water, always stay on the established trails or developed areas

• Keep a close watch on children even if they are far from the water. Water safety for children is especially important as they can quickly enter the water and get in trouble when your attention is diverted only for a moment

• Never walk, play or climb on slippery rocks and logs near rivers and streams

• Never dive in waters where you are unable to see the bottom or in areas where no diving signs are posted

• Be cautious of sudden drop offs, know where key danger areas are

• Be aware of Low Head Dams, (a small structure that impounds a small amount of water and spans the width of river or streams)

Boating safety Tips:

• Take a boating safety course.

• All vessels should have an anchor device with 50ft. of anchor line. If motor failure occurs, you can anchor and call for help.

• Having a canoe paddle in your boat can be useful to bring your boat to shore in case of motor failure.

• Waterfowl season is quickly approaching, if you participate in this spott remember to wear warm, appropriate clothing to keep warm when boating or wading in the dark to get to blinds. Traveling in the dark makes you very vulnerable so it is recommended to have personal flotation devices and bright coloring in the event of an accident.

• It is important to remember that personal flotation devices (lifejackets) can be lifesaving tools. o Wear brightly colored lifejackets, you want to be visible if you go overboard.

• Use life jackets that are impact resistant.

• These devices can also help retain body heat in cold water.

• Be particularly cautious near dams, there can be many hazards caused by water flows, human activities, environmental factors, and the structures themselves and the back current can pull

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

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