As conditions change, officials urge caution on James River

Published 10:58 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

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As you celebrate the end of school and the upcoming Memorial Day, local fire departments ask that you just be cautious before heading out on the water. Conditions for the James River, among others, keep shifting as the weather forecast changes. 

Right now, the National Weather Service is calling for rain, heavy at times, from Saturday through next Monday. That’s what could cause problems. After a large rainstorm, water levels are higher and cause currents to be quicker. Along with the current, rain and extra water can cause large debris and fallen trees to enter the river and be a hazard. 

When checking conditions, things can vary when dealing with canoeing and kayaking, tubing, rafting and fishing. Often tubing can be the last activity deemed safe as conditions start to go back to normal levels. 

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According to Charlie Holland, a lieutenant with the Toga and the Powhatan Volunteer Fire Departments, he has seen firsthand how tubing can be more dangerous than other activities. Unlike canoeing and kayaking, those tubing do not have a paddle of some sort to move out of the way of large debris or fight a strong current they may get swept up in. 

“Why more tubers get lost or injured more than others is that they can’t see as well to see the banks and bends,” said Holland. “Often they’ll get swept to the other side of the river and can’t get back because they can’t overpower the current.”

Another dangerous condition with these strong currents is not being able to tell put-ins and take-outs. It can be hard to judge the time floating in the river and many tubers miss where they came in and get lost. 

Prepare for James River

Before heading out, there are a few ways to check if conditions are safe enough before going to the river. It is important to make sure the current isn’t too fast to be unsafe and to make sure that people bring enough food and water for how long they stay. 

According to Holland, people can also call the state parks before going to ask what the conditions are like and the rangers are happy to help. 

Depending on which river they plan to visit, people can visit or to check the river conditions. These sites will show the conditions as green, yellow or red to show the current status of the river. Also, people can visit to check predictions for what may happen when planning a trip a few days in advance.

“We want to make sure everyone stays safe but still enjoys everything the river has to offer,” said Holland.