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Venturing outdoors demands more caution this year

The summer of 2009 has been a wet and cool one right into August. Oh, there have been anomalies, those few dry and sunny days that make us forget all those others and pull us outdoors to appreciate their precious warmth and light, as the sunshine last Saturday did. But the promise of real summer has each time been pulled back, quenched by the next bout of pounding rain and winds.

Since the time spent outdoors has been limited in the Tri-state region because of the climate this summer, once one is able to finally get out, it can be tempting to fit in as much outdoor activity as possible, taking some risks in the process. But because of the constant wet weather, hikers will still find mud and wet rocks underfoot even on sunny days, fishermen and boaters will find high, rushing water and bikers will find wet roads and trails that are not necessarily safe.

Last week, another rescue took place at the Great Falls of the Housatonic River in Falls Village, reminiscent of the tragedy that occurred there June 16 when Kaelan Paton died in the same area in a swimming accident. This time, on July 26, a 20-year-old from New Hampshire fell 40 feet into the still-high river water, and two of his companions jumped in after him, a natural and courageous reaction which nevertheless resulted in all three men becoming trapped, in trouble. The Northwest Rope Rescue Team, with support at the scene from members of the Lakeville Hose Company, Salisbury Ambulance and Falls Village Fire Department and Ambulance, sprang into action, saving all three men.

It was extremely fortunate for the first man who fell into those fast-moving waters that he survived the entry into the river. It was equally fortunate for all three that the region’s volunteer corps have put in the time and effort to take on the highly specialized training to make such a rescue. As chief of the Salisbury Ambulance and member of the ropes team Jacquie Rice said at the scene last week, though, this type of rescue is difficult for everybody; something has to be done to help prevent accidents from happening in that area. It’s time to think about real protective fencing at the top of that cliff over the Great Falls. While this is an unusually wet summer, all years have at least some periods of high water levels that have been the consistent norm this year.  

However, those who venture outdoors should remember that taking risks not only puts them in danger, it can also put their friends and area rescue workers in danger. Surely, all those who love to get out into the beautiful countryside we enjoy in the Northwest Corner and Tri-state area should continue to do that, but they just need to control their activities and use common sense. There are ways to enjoy the rest of the season. Those who take part in outdoor life should pace themselves this summer, and should proceed with even greater caution than usual.

There is no reason to take it to the maximum, creating more dangerous situations, and there are many reasons not to push it. Take note of the actual conditions underfoot before deciding which path to take, and how far, both on land and water. If it’s clear that bad weather is approaching, find shelter or take cover. Learn what the safety measures should be when out in the elements. Nature continues to be unforgiving, and one misstep can lead to a hard outcome.

And, maybe the sun will come out long enough to dry things out again before winter. Here’s to the hope of a brighter August.

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