Notes from Hunter Creek
Recent Stream Fatalities
In past years (now way past) I have floated a couple of pushy class IV rivers at high levels, thereby elevating their relative danger to paddlers.
I like to compare it to driving 85 mph on the Interstate (yes, one state actually has this limit now, in the day time). The highway was constructed to support that speed, but how ‘bout the human species?
In other words, if wildlife suddenly darts into your path or if some other calamity occurs, your reaction impulses had better be pretty sharp in order to avoid complete destruction.
A necessary aid on the highways is the use of seat belts and airbags. Likewise on the river, a properly fitted and worn like vest and helmet could save your life.
On three different occasions, I know that a good life jacket helped me out and maybe, saved my life. Once on the Rio during high water in Big Bend in Topado Canyon; once on the Youghiogheny River below Ohiopyle Falls in SW Pennsylvania; and once at the 24.5 Mile Rapid in Marble Canyon above the Grand Canyon.
It’s a known fact that most downriver deaths which occur to paddlers are on class I rivers at high flows – and most of the time, the fatality involves non-use of a life jacket.
On April 16 this year, our area experienced heavy rains in an already damp and wet winter and spring environment.
Little Mt. Zion recorded just over 7 inches of precipitation, Ava – 6 inches, Gentryville – 3 inches, and here in the lower Hunter Creek Valley – 5 inches. However, the results were devastating as though even more rain had fallen.
For example, while my trusty bridge over Hunter Creek built in 1954, survived again, we experienced a 15-foot rise over the bridge (approx. 17-foot rises in ‘82, ‘93, and 2017). However, it took 3-1/2 days for the water to recede to about 15 inches over the bridge; and it took that long to dig through a five-foot high pile of sand and gravel blocking the bridge approach, and at least two days to cut through and move 16 trees blocking the bridge on the north end.
The first fatality during this flood occurred that Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning on Hunter Creek at the MDC Access at Vera Cruz, east of Ava. Rob Turner, age 59, of Vanzant was camped in his tent along with his beagle in the camping area, about 10 feet above the normal creek level. Poor Rob’s body was located the next day several hundred yards downstream in a pile of river debris. His dog survived.
The other two fatalities involved whitewater kayakers floating Bull Creek, a stream I have written about and extolled its virtues extensively, along with Swan Creek.
Bull Creek is commonly run from the low-water bridge at Goodnight Hollow (located on a gravel road east of State Hwy. 176 down to St. Hwy. F, just east of US 65, for a total distance of almost 10 miles.
At high flows, it is rated class II-III. Halfway down the run, located about 2-1/2 miles upriver from Walnut Shade is a semi-private bridge with several slots underneath it, along with a ledge/falls drop of about 2-3 feet.
It is tricky at moderate levels and demands the utmost respect at high water, as does any bridge or weir. There is a cheater high water channel run on the left side which must be scouted for debris and river trash. Otherwise a fairly easy portage should be considered on river right.
According to local news reports, these “experienced” kayakers put in at high water on April 17. All three paddlers apparently had trouble at the falls and bridge and capsized.
The three paddlers had previously floated Bull Creek and were in their 20’s, and all were healthy. Two of the three did not survive, and it took two days to find one of the deceased paddlers. Allegedly neither of the deceased were wearing life jackets.
Just as in many auto crashes, most downriver paddling fatalities involve more than one factor.
Anyway, it’s a shame these three people lost their lives during an Ozark mad spring fury.
Note: On another sad note, my heart weeps for the passing of a fine young Ava man whom I personally knew, liked, and respected.
Colten Overcast, age 21, an Ava High School graduate, and former Marine passed suddenly on May 7.
He will be missed and his future potential will never be known now.
My deepest sympathies to his father David, mother Christy and sister Caitlyn.
As I have stated before, I think that one of the most tragic events in life is to bury one’s child. I know. I buried my step-son as a result of an auto accident that occurred south of Norwood on “C” Hwy. a few years ago. You never get over it.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!