It has become an annual rite of summer: The weather heats up, folks seek places to cool off and The Augusta Chronicle sends a photographer to document their refreshing frolics. This usually means an enticing photo of the so-called “Aqueduct Park” near the Augusta Canal, as was the case in your June 14 edition.
Another rite of summer: our annual reminder about safely enjoying the water in and near the Augusta Canal.
It is important to point out that the Rae’s Creek spillway (a.k.a. “Aqueduct Park”) is not a park. As inviting as it may be on a hot summer day, this area can be a dangerous place for swimming. Because it is a drainage overflow for the canal, unexpected rushes of water can come roaring down the rocky bank at any time. The water can go from a trickle to a torrent with no warning.
Also, the drop-off in the pool below is sudden: waders on the rock ledge easily can step off into water over their heads – a serious danger for non-swimmers. Glass shards and other sharp objects left by litterers often are hidden beneath the water. There is no lifeguard.
Swimming in the canal itself has been illegal for more than 150 years. Although the water may appear safe, its swift, treacherous currents caused by the intake gates near the mills, waterworks pumping station and the Olmstead Bulkhead can trap even strong swimmers. For this reason, tubing also is prohibited.
Summer brings an increase in risky behaviors such as jumping off canal bridges, docks and the railroad trestle near the raw water pumping station. This is both dangerous and illegal. The canal is only about 10 feet deep and has logs and other underwater obstructions in addition to the swimming risk noted above. Jumpers risk serious injury.
For the continued safety of the public, please discourage your readers from taking these risks.
(The writer is director of marketing and external affairs for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area.)