- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The Potomac River Gorge, marked by stretches of churning whitewater and deceptive stillness, is more hazardous to hikers and shore-bound anglers than to paddlers who run the rapids.

Of the five persons who drowned last year in the scenic section near the District, just one was a kayaker, said Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service’s National Capital Region. The others were anglers, hikers or rock climbers who fell in from shore, he said yesterday.

Accordingly, the Park Service and local police agencies plan to post 35 signs, in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, at popular fishing spots and other easily accessible locations along the nearly 14-mile stretch from Great Falls to Key Bridge.

“The trend we are seeing is that people who are literally on the side of the river, who are not necessarily native speakers, fall into the river,” Mr. Line said.

He said the steep rocks lining the banks are slippery, and even the quiet sections of water are hazardous.

“What looks to be quite placid and what looks to be quite tranquil is in fact a very dangerous river, especially if you are not a very skilled swimmer, and in very short order you are pulled under the water,” he said.

The Class II and Class III rapids below Great Falls attract expert paddlers to the area. The river rushes through a rocky channel that narrows to 100 feet, creating strong currents, waves and eddies, according to American Whitewater, an association based in Takoma Park.

The state of Maryland, which owns the Potomac River, loosened regulations in 2001 to eliminate a requirement for boaters to register before running Great Falls. More recently, the Park Service considered limiting or controlling boater access at Great Falls Park on the Virginia side and the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park in Maryland.

Jason Robertson of American Whitewater said boater safety largely depends on a life jacket. “Inappropriate life jacket use accounts for at least half of all fatalities on the water,” he said.

The point was repeated by the Maryland Natural Resources Police at an event yesterday at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis.

The force’s superintendent, Col. Mark S. Chaney, said most of the 13 boating-related fatalities on Maryland waterways last year could have been prevented had the victims worn life jackets.

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