Tuesday, 23 August 2011 10:51

Rolling down the river a popular summer activity

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By Jamie Woodford
Southern Alberta
There are many ways to beat the sweltering southern Alberta summer heat, but floating down the Oldman River is fast becoming one of the most popular cool-off activities in Lethbridge.
According to most tubers the Prairie Post spoke to, the number of floaters has significantly increased.

“Exponentially more the last couple years,” said James Vandette while he was preparing to go down the river. “It used to be you come down here (Indian Battle Park) and see four or five vehicles, now it’s up to the point where we’re parking along the side of the road all the way out.”

Tina Bourassa, who floats down the river with her friends every Sunday, has also noticed the rise in river floaters.

“It’s very busy on the river,” she said.

Tubers don’t even have to bring their own floating device, they can just rent one on the river bank, and that’s the reason the activity has become as popular as it has, according to Old Man River Tubing and Raft Tours manager Stephen Ross.

“I would unequivocally say it’s because they saw us, and people caught on to the idea that the river’s there,” he said.

When the company began operations in 2007, Ross said maybe 30 people would float downstream, but the amount of tubers rose quickly.

“By the end of the first season, on a weekend, you’d see 500, 600, 700 people come down, and now it’s a regular thing when the weather’s nice,” he said.

Despite the drowning of a 15-year-old boy the beginning of August, not many river rats thought twice about floating without a lifejacket.

“I don’t think we’ve taken any extra precautions,” said Bourassa. “We don’t drink or anything when we float. We just swim around the raft, we don’t stray.”

None in her group planned to wear a safety floatation device. None in Vandette’s party planned to wear any lifejackets either.

“I find that most of it is common sense and as long as you’re using your head ... you’ll be safe,” said Vandette, adding he thinks children of a certain age should have to wear lifejackets.

Old Man River Tubing requires children under 17 must wear a lifejacket on one of their tubes, but it’s not mandatory for adults.

“Right now the river’s at a stage where it’s semi-safe,” said Ross. “It’s still higher than it normally would be. You can stand up almost everywhere in the river.”

In Calgary, police and bylaw officers patrol the Bow and Elbow rivers looking for people drinking alcohol and people without lifejackets. Anyone caught receives a $115 or $500 fine, respectively.

Lethbridge does not have river floating bylaws, and not many tubers thought it would be a good idea to install one.

“We’ve been doing this for years already without the controls and had absolutely no mishaps,” said Vandette. “I’m bringing people that are brand new to it out, and still having no mishaps.”

Rhonda Mann said she thought a bylaw for children would be good and children should be accompanied by a parent in addition to wearing a lifejacket.

“Children under 18 should definitely be wearing lifejackets just to prevent anything from happening,” she said. “But, I think if you’re over 18 you’re free to make your own choices, and as long as you use precautions you’ll be fine on the river.”

Bourassa was a bit on the fence about a local mandatory lifejacket bylaw.

“I’d say yes for safety reasons, but no for personal reasons. I don’t want to wear one,” she said.

According to Ross, patrolling the Oldman River wouldn’t be feasible,

“It would be next to impossible to enforce them (bylaws) because they can’t put police on the river like they do on the Bow River,” he said.

“It’s a good system. I’d like to see it, but I don’t think Lethbridge could afford it. It would be expensive, and the river’s so shallow they wouldn’t be able to come up and down the river like they do the Bow River.”

Ross added the company is safety-oriented and patrols the river regularly to make sure no one on company tubes is drinking or discarding beer cans in the water.

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