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Cool off with caution: Rivers still swifter, colder than normal
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Cool off with caution: Rivers still swifter, colder than normal

Lynn Roylance and her daughters floated on inner tubes nearly the whole length of Corvallis on the Willamette River on Monday afternoon, from Willamette Park to Michael’s Landing. They made sure to wear life jackets.

“The river’s a bit unpredictable, so it’s good to be safe,” Roylance said.

Authorities are hoping other residents use such caution.

The National Weather Service has predicted high temperatures of 90 degrees on Tuesday, 93 degrees on Wednesday and 90 degrees on Thursday for Albany, Corvallis and surrounding areas. Public safety agencies are concerned that residents will flock to rivers and lakes. “Everybody’s looking to cool off,” said Capt. Michelle Duncan of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.

And far more people than normal are heading to the outdoors due to COVID-19 limiting other recreational activities, officials said.

Despite the run of warm weather, waterways are still running cool and swift thanks to a late-arriving summer, said Tammy Robbins, spokeswoman for the Jefferson Fire District. “The (Santiam) River is a little more dangerous,” she added.

On Sunday afternoon, an Albany man fell off his inner tube and drowned in the Santiam River near the rest areas on Interstate 5. The man, whose name hadn’t been released as of 5 p.m. Monday, wasn’t wearing a life jacket, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. The Jefferson Fire Department, Albany Fire Department, Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Benton County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the drowning.

“The big safety tip that our guys emphasize more than anything out on the water is to wear a life jacket, no matter how strong of a swimmer you are. Most of the drownings we respond to could have been prevented with a life jacket,” said Marion County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Landers. Robbins and Duncan also urged residents to use personal flotation devices.

Robbins said the Santiam River still should be avoided between Greens Bridge and the Jefferson boat ramp, as it remains thick with debris such as downed trees that can pose hazards. “The current can be dangerous in other spots of the river,” she added.

Duncan and Landers said that there has been a surge of activity this summer at outdoor spots.

“We have noticed a large increase, even during the week. I’m sure it’s because people can’t go anywhere else,” Duncan said. “There’s definitely been increased activity at campgrounds and lakes. … Our marine patrol is reporting that there are a lot more people on Foster and Green Peter than normal.”

The Quartzville area also is seeing more people, she added.

Landers said that the waterways of Marion County are far more crowded than usual. Sunday’s drowning was the agency’s second in less than a week. On July 22, an 18-year-old Dallas man drowned in the Willamette Slough near Riverfront Park in Salem.

Criminals also have taken advantage of the increased traffic to the outdoors.

Jaimi Glass, a crime analyst with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, said her agency saw a recent spike of car break-ins at trailheads.

“Lock up your valuables. Don’t leave them out in plain view,” she added.

According to the Associated Press, state and federal officials say people are flooding Oregon’s beaches, forests and mountains in unprecedented numbers in the quest to escape amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s brought a spike in accidents, garbage, property damage and bear activity in recreation areas, The Statesman Journal reported on Monday.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Chris Havel said they’re seeing a level of use well beyond a normal year, especially on the coast and west of the Cascades.

“It’s like having the crowds you see for a holiday weekend, except all the time,” he said.

Roylance agreed that things were busier than a typical summer on the Willamette River, and she guessed it was because people are finding local activities they can do while maintaining social distancing.

“Two weeks ago we came on a Wednesday and it was as crowded as we’ve ever seen it on a weekend. Today’s a Monday, and it’s what it would normally look like on a weekend,” Roylance said at Michael’s Landing.

She’s also a trail runner, and said the woods are very busy this summer.

But Roylance wasn’t annoyed by the extra residents enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.

“I’m a P.E. teacher, so I love to see it. Seeing more people outside makes me really happy,” she added. “We are really lucky where we live.”

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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