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Forest Service urges waterfall safety

Recent fatalities and serious injuries on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests serve as a reminder of dangers visitors may face in wild places that are not engineered for safety, the U.S. Forest Service said.

On July 23 a man died while swimming at Secret Falls on the Nantahala Ranger District south of Highlands. Similarly in May, a man died while swimming at Elk River Falls on the Appalachian Ranger District. Also last week, a man was seriously injured after falling from a rock near Looking Glass Falls in the Pisgah Ranger District. Although there were witnesses to the incidents, the exact circumstances that led to these unfortunate outcomes are unknown. Increased awareness of the dangers may help save lives.

Waterfalls are exciting and rivers are a wonderful place to cool off on a hot day, but both pose risks to unprepared visitors. Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools at the base of waterfalls. Rocks and logs can be hidden beneath the surface of the water. Often waterfall pools have swirling water or currents that can drag and keep you underwater.

Summer water temperatures in deeper sections of Southern Appalachian mountain streams can be in the 50s. Diving in to cold water can cause a shock that changes breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Even strong swimmers may find their responses slowed by cold water.

Never play in the water above a waterfall! Currents near waterfalls can be extremely fast even in areas further upstream. Slippery rocks have caused people to lose their balance and fall. Sometimes people get caught in the river’s current and swept over the falls. Dogs have also been swept over waterfalls so should be kept out of the river and on a leash.

In the event of an injury, call 911 and be prepared to provide first aid while you wait for help to arrive. Most local emergency responders are volunteers for county emergency management agencies. With more people visiting national forests, service can be strained. Give emergency responders a break by being aware of dangers and taking precautions to ensure a safe visit to national forests this summer.