Officials warn of dangerously high flowing Zion Narrows after 3 people rescued from river

ST. GEORGE — Zion National Park officials are warning visitors of dangerous conditions in The Narrows after a search and rescue incident on Tuesday.

The Narrows has been closed since April 1 due to high levels of fast flowing waters in the Virgin River. The Narrows typically closes in the spring due to snowmelt but is usually able to reopen after about a month when the flow rate is down to 150 cubic feet per second.

This year, due to record-breaking spring precipitation, the flow rate is still too high to reopen the popular hike. At 210 cubic feet per second, the current is strong enough to sweep a person off their feet and wash them down river.

Read more: Spring precipitation in St. George breaks 61-year-old record

On Tuesday a 12-year-old-boy was swept away after wading in the river near the shore by the Temple of Sinawava. The boy’s mother and another woman ran into the river to help and were also swept away, the park said in a press release.

The boy and his mother were stranded on a boulder in the middle of the river, and bystanders were able to rescue the second woman who went in. Washington County Search and Rescue responded to the scene and rescued the mother and son from the rock using a kayak and rope. No one was injured in the incident.

Hikers explore The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah, July 18, 2008 | Photo by Michael Rinker, St. George News

“This incident highlights the need for personal attention to safety around stream courses throughout the region under high snowmelt conditions,” Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a press release.

While this was the first swift-water rescue in the park this year, park officials are concerned that with temperatures rising and the water beginning to lower, that more people will start to go in the water believing it is safe, Zion Chief of Interpretation Aly Baltrus told St. George News.

“We are worried about more people getting in the water,” Baltrus said.

The Narrows will remain closed until the flow rate is down to 150 cubic feet per second, and until then, wading anywhere in the river can be dangerous. The park estimates that the flow rates will be low enough to reopen in one to two weeks, Bradybaugh said in the press release.

Even 150 cubic feet per second can be challenging to walk in. Any time the current is above 70 cubic feet per second there are areas of water that can be deep enough to reach mid-thigh and pools can be chest deep. This can be difficult to hike in since the river bottom is slippery and uneven, according to the National Park Service.

Park visitation is down about 13% so far this year, and while The Narrows has been closed for much of it, Baltrus does not believe that it is a significant factor in the decline since the park had an increase of visitors in May.

Visitors can view updated conditions for The Narrows online, and are able to view current river flow rates through the U.S. Geological Survey.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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