Poudre River levels recede after historic peak contributes to three deaths

Rafter overboard. This rider to a short ride in the Disneyland drop off on the Poudre River, but was retrieved unhurt.
Rafter overboard. This rider to a short ride in the Disneyland drop off on the Poudre River, but was retrieved unhurt.

After reaching unusually high levels and claiming three drowning victims in a matter of two weeks, the Cache la Poudre River has come down to a level that, in any other year, would be its peak. In late June, the river was at 5.08 at the mouth of the canyon, down from a peak of 7.75 feet at the end of May.

Cristopher Brian Canto, 14, and his 38-year-old uncle Jose Terrel-Pena drowned in the fast-moving Poudre River on May 26. Canto fell in the river while fishing near Ouzel Campground, about 12 miles west of Ted’s Place, and Pena died trying to save him.

On June 4, 26-year-old Rebecca Knight died while rafting the Poudre River. Four people were in the privately owned raft and three were able to get out unharmed near Mishawaka, but Knight remained in the water and was eventually retrieved downstream in Poudre Park. She was transported by Air Link to an area hospital where she was later pronounced dead.

A local daily newspaper wrote that it could not be confirmed whether Knight was wearing a helmet and life preserver, implying that Knight was not properly equipped.

One of the people who helped pull Knight out of the river, Poudre Park resident and professional firefighter Tony Falbo, confirmed that Knight was on a boat with an experienced operator and that they were properly outfitted. Falbo said that though Knight was as prepared as she could have been, anyone can face dire risks when rafting on the river.

“Rafting, in general, is an inherently unsafe sport,” Falbo said. “We all accept that responsibility when we get on the river intentionally.”

Falbo further warned that anyone wishing to raft at this time should exercise extreme caution, since the river still sits at peak levels.

The general managers of Rocky Mountain Adventures and A Wanderlust Adventure said that anyone wanting to run the river during high water must be properly trained and equipped, and it is best to float with a group. However, they said the safest way to raft is to go with a professional company.

“I do recommend that people go with the companies, because we have the equipment and the trained professionals,” said Bob Klein, the manager of A Wanderlust Adventure. “We are the ones who do this every day.”

Tubing, another popular summer activity on the Poudre River, can also carry risks when the river is at high levels. Fort Collins banned tubing for the weeks that the river was at its highest, but lifted the ban mid-June when the levels went down. However, Falbo said tubing can still carry risks at this time of year, no matter the level of the river.

The Poudre Fire Authority issued a river safety press release reminding water recreationists that the safest way to inner tube is to tell someone where you are going, wear a life jacket, carry a first aid kit, and watch your surroundings. If someone falls into the river, PFA advises to reach out to them or throw a rope in, and not to go in after them.

PFA’s reminders about the safest way to raft or inner tube also includes any activity near the river.

“River users should continue to exercise extreme caution when entering or going near the river,” the fire authority said in a press release. “Runoff flows and water levels continue to be high, and river conditions may change rapidly and without warning.”

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