CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — With Middle Tennesseans eager to get out on the waterways this Memorial Day weekend, Clarksville first responders are hoping to get ahead of any drownings by urging caution at certain spots along the Blueway.
For many looking to cool off, the Red River flowing along Billy Dunlop Park offers the perfect opportunity.
“It’s starting to get warmer out here. Just going in here, it’s cool. I really like it. It’s just a nice spot to hang out,” Fort Campbell soldier Tom Zeise said.
“It’s a nice, relaxing thing to do, and you can bring your kids, you can bring your pets and stuff, you can all stand on a big float and just have fun,” Clarksville resident Dantia Rios added.
However, Red River waters have proven deadly in the past.
Last summer, Clarksville Fire Rescue officials said they were called to waterways almost weekly. An area of particular concern, where they saw two drownings, was an undercurrent right off of the access point at Billy Dunlop Park.
“Some of the drownings we had last year, people were swimming, having a good time, not doing anything wrong, and then just got out further than what they were comfortable swimming and were not able to get back to the safety of the bank,” said Assistant Chief of Special Operations Brandon McCurdy with Clarksville Fire Rescue. “The way the river runs, it runs in, it takes a hard 90-degree turn, so what that does is it creates and undertow, and it also cuts out the bank, so it goes from being knee-deep to over your head within a few feet.”
Some people have seen the power of these waters firsthand.
“One time last year, my friend actually got sunken in because the tide, like, flipped her over and she couldn’t get up,” Rios said. “Next time, we brought a paddle so we didn’t have to worry about getting swept somewhere unsafe.”
Luckily, a group of friends helped that person out, serving as a prime example of why Clarksville Fire Rescue recommends you always swim with a friend, in addition to having a route mapped and, most importantly, wearing a life vest.
“With the flow of the river, I would say if you’re coming down and you’re not a very strong swimmer… to use a personal floatation device,” Oak Grove resident Kyle Salmons said.
McCurdy suggests having a life vest, no matter how strong of a swimmer you are. Clarksville Fire Rescue hopes life jackets, along with their training and equipment, will help save lives on the water this summer.
“Anytime there’s a loss of life, everybody involved takes it hard, from the family members, even the rescuers, for us on our side,” McCurdy said. “We want people to have a good time, we want them to enjoy themselves, but do it safely. The last thing we want is another drowning down here.”
Another important reminder is for swimmers and kayakers to plan on getting off the Red River at the Billy Dunlop endpoint. Each summer, Clarksville Fire Rescue responds to patrons who didn’t do so and underestimated the time it would take to reach the next exit point.
Once water-goers pass Billy Dunlop Park, the next exit point is six miles away, which can take hours to reach, according to McCurdy.