Warning: Rivers pose ever-changing swimming condition - KPTV - FOX 12

Warning: Rivers pose ever-changing swimming condition

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People enjoying the Columbia River at Frenchman's Bar northwest of Vancouver. People enjoying the Columbia River at Frenchman's Bar northwest of Vancouver.
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

As the weather heats up again in the Portland area, there’s a warning to families who might be planning to head to a local river to cool off: underwater conditions are always changing and the safest place to swim is in a pool.

That word of warning comes from dive team and marine patrol experts throughout the metro area after a number of people have drowned in local waterways this summer.

One of the common threads in many cases? Rivers.

Two people drowned at Kelley Point Park this month, a notoriously dangerous place to swim where powerful currents are created as the Willamette and Columbia Rivers merge.

Mark Ross, a spokesperson for Portland Parks & Recreation said there are also underwater obstructions at Kelley Point Park and “a land shelf with an abrupt and deep drop-off.” Plus, there are spots where “people’s feet are suddenly getting caught in sticky mud in deeper water.”

The park is now temporarily closed as crews work to install additional “no swimming” and “no wading” signs along with written warnings in several languages. Similar signage has been at Kelley Point Park since 2012.

Another notoriously dangerous spot is High Rocks along the Clackamas River in Gladstone, where a man drowned in April.

Lt. Kirk Stempel of the Gladstone Fire Department said people who jump in often hit rocks or debris underwater, and while the surface looks deceptively smooth there is a swift undercurrent. The very cold mountain water can also shock people who aren’t prepared for it.

Another spot to watch out for is Milo McIver State Park in Estacada, where a teenager drowned in late June.

It’s also along the Clackamas River, which Clackamas County Marine Patrol Sgt. Steve Thoroughman said is known as a “drop and pool” river because there are deep drop-offs right next to shallow areas where the water pools.

You can be standing in ankle-deep water and take just a couple of steps and suddenly the water is over your head, he explained.

There can also be hazards underwater that water can pass through, but are too small for human bodies to clear, so people can get pinned up against them in the force of the current.

Very deep holes and steep drop-off’s also exist at Canby Community Park along the Molalla River, according to Todd Gary with the Canby Fire Department.

Similar dangers exist in many other areas throughout the metro area.

Experts say the safest place to swim is in a pool, but if you are going to be in a river you need to wear a life jacket to ensure you don’t become a victim of unpredictable waters.

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