Woven tight within the identity of Fort Collins - and that of surrounding communities - is the Cache la Poudre River. Families picnic along its sandy shores feet from anglers knee-deep in their bliss, as scenic rushing waters usher kayakers, rafters and tubers down a twisting, bumping path.
As much as it is an outdoor treasure, the Poudre River is unpredictable and unrelenting. Snow melt transforms it from shallow and slow-moving to ice-cold and treacherous. Branches and rocks lurk beneath the river's surface, and low-head dams - which appear to untrained eyes like peaceful, in-river waterfalls - pose a deadly risk to all who cross their paths.
Poudre Fire Authority, Larimer County Emergency Services, Larimer County Dive Rescue Team and other first responders are called out dozens of times each year to respond to river-related emergencies. They help people trapped on the wrong side of the river. Those stuck in the river, treading for dear life. And, most tragically, those who don't survive their journey.
On June 27, 2017, 64-year-old William McHarg, of Severance, died after falling into the Poudre while he was on a rafting trip. The Larimer County Coroner's Office determined Mr. McHarg had severe heart disease and died from a heart attack and drowning, the Coloradoan reported. Before that, on June 18, Seattle-area 18-year-old Maximillian Lopez died after getting caught in a low-head dam while tubing near Bellvue.
In no way are we pointing fingers or assigning blame. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by these devastating events. But deaths on the river can be minimized. The keys are education, awareness, which lead to changes in behavior. This is the crux of community risk reduction - the heart and soul of the work we now ask you to help support.
Elements of Play It Safe On The Poudre include:
• Teach locals and visitors safety strategies on the river (lectures, brochures, etc.)
• Install signs along the Poudre River to inform river users about recommended routes and warn of upcoming river hazards
• Develop a free lifejacket loaner program
• Acquire new, state-of-the art equipment for the Larimer County Dive Rescue Team