Summer is here, and as Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall community
members break out the sunscreen and bathing suits, joint base
leaders are reminding service members to stay out of Potomac River
waters at Great
The section of water from the Sycamore Island
area – four-tenths of a mile from the Little Falls Dam – to Chain
Bridge is prohibited to all swimmers and waders. Aquatic activities
in the Great Falls/Potomac River Gorge area are against Maryland,
Virginia and District of Columbia law, as well as off-limits under a
directive from the Military District of Washington issued in 1984.
Although the waters of the Great Falls/Potomac River Gorge in Washington, D.C. and Maryland may appear calm on the surface, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall officials warn that the waters contain strong currents and jagged rocks. Since 2001, two dozen people have lost their lives — including a Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall-based Soldier — in the park's waters. JBM-HH officials are reminding service members that aquatic activities in certain portions of the Great Falls area are not only off limits under a Military District of Washington directive, but are also illegal. (Photo courtesy Tracie Miller,
June 18, 2014)
Tracie Miller, JBM-HH Directorate of Emergency Services
physical security specialist, stressed the very real and
deadly dangers of Potomac River waters in an interview with
“It's extremely important that
personnel understand ... that swimming and wading are 100
percent prohibited and that it is illegal no matter if
you're on the Virginia, D.C. or Maryland side,” she said.
“If you're fortunate enough to survive, you'll receive a
citation. Courts generally give fines or community service
in conjunction with these citations because they want people
to take this seriously.”
While surface waters may
seem calm to some, Miller assured community members that the
river is a different beast beneath the surface.
a deep and a fast-moving river with jagged, rocky bottoms,
and it creates a very strong current that even strong
swimmers have difficulty and issues with,” she said. “It
generates a current that is much like a washing machine –
it's a circular current, and it'll take you down to the
bottom, and you can't get back up.”
For a better idea
of the river's dangers, community members need only look at
the numbers. According to the National Park Service, 51
percent of all river-related accidents in the Potomac River
Gorge area are fatal and 72 percent of river-related
incidents in the area are the result of shoreline
activities, like hiking or fishing.
In June 2013, an
Old Guard Soldier drowned in Great Falls waters. Between
2001 and 2014, this area of the Potomac has seen 24
drownings. In 1984, Fort Myer lost seven Soldiers due to
water-related accidents in the falls area.
from the Centers for Disease Control paint a harrowing
picture as well.
According to the CDC, 43 percent of
all unintentional drownings occur in natural water.
Furthermore, almost 80 percent of people who drown are male
and one in five people who drown are children age 14 or
younger. They also note that alcohol is a factor in up to 70
percent of deaths associated with water recreation.
Miller said the intention is not to scare people but to
educate them on the dangers of the area so they can enjoy
themselves in a safe, smart manner.
don't want to cause an alarmist attitude – it's a very
beautiful place,” she said. “We want them to enjoy and take
advantage of everything that the National Capital Region has
available, but we want them to do it in a way that is safe,
and with awareness, and to make sure that they're respecting
nature and the force that nature can be.”
noted that there are some areas of the river where kayaking
and other paddling activities are allowed (visit
www.nps.gov/grfa/planyourvisit/kayaking.htm), as well as a
number of websites, such as www.potomacpaddlesports.com,
where community members can see the water levels and safely
plan their trips.
“Do a little bit of research prior
to engaging in those types of activities on the river just
to make it a little bit safer,” she said.
said there are many signs indicating what sections of the
river are off limits to aquatic activities of any kind.
“There are many ways that our community members can
Great Falls area and with some very, very simple
knowledge in their pockets, they can greatly reduce their
risks and come home safely,” she said.
By Guv Callahan, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
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