As recreation on Leavenworth’s Wenatchee River grows in popularity, the need for skilled river rescue has grown as well. A coalition of local emergency agencies, including the Chelan County Sheriff’s Department, Leavenworth Fire District, Cascade Medical, and community volunteers, have teamed up to help make the river a safer place for all to play.
“We get a lot of people coming from out of town who don’t necessarily know where they are going or what hazards they may encounter on the river,” Team Leader, Deputy Mike McLeod told me at the Swiftwater Rescue Team’s recent training. “We encourage everyone to seek the knowledge and skills necessary to be on the river, but sometimes folks find themselves in over their heads and we get called in to do what we can.”
In a swiftwater rescue scenario, time is of the essence. That is why it is necessary that a variety of crews interface to respond to someone in need of help. One of these crews is the Explorer Search and Rescue Team (ESAR). The Explorers are a team of dedicated high-school students from Wenatchee who are trained in basic Search and Rescue as a means to support their community.
As a popular river for a wide range of recreation activities, the Wenatchee River is no stranger to tragedy. “Often times those folks are in places that appear benign. In most of those cases a PFD (personal floatation device, or life jacket) might have made all the difference,” cautions Deputy McLeod.
If you are unfamiliar with the Wenatchee River, or rivers in general, there are several excellent and professional outfitters in Leavenworth to support your rafting and floating adventures. Otherwise, it is important to check and understand the river’s current level, know where it is you will be taking out, and be familiar with the hazards you may encounter along the way. The Wenatchee River’s whitewater section begins in town, adjacent to popular swimming areas near Barns Beach at Waterfront Park. Oftentimes, tubers and others recreating on the river underestimate the strength of the current due to the crowds on the nearby beaches.
With temperatures reaching triple digits unusually early this summer, this may be one of the most crowded years yet on area rivers. And, this tight-knit crew of responders are prepared to jump into action to help ensure everyone makes it home safely from their Wenatchee River activities.