June 26, 2020
Downed Tree in Conhocton River (Scudder Rd.) in Steuben Co.
River Friends received an e-mail on June 26 from woman warning paddlers about a large tree fallen into the river and creating a dangerous obstacle to paddlers.
The site is near Scudder Road, just before Savona, on the Conhocton River. Paddlers please stay away from this area of the river. Downed trees (called strainers or sweepers), allow limited amounts of water pass through, but not solid objects like boats and people. It’s like a kitchen strainer used to drain spaghetti. They water pressure can trap your boat you against the tree in strong current, even if you have on a life vest. You could also be trapped against the tree, under water and drown.
The Conhocton strainer covers most of the main river channel. A bend in the river and limited visibility, just upstream from the strainer means paddlers will not likely see the hazard until they are too close and fast current pulls them into the tree.
Once you spot this strainer, the fast current and short distance make it it’s nearly impossible to correct the direction of your kayak to avoid it. That is what happened to a mom and her 15-year-old son earlier this month.
“My son’s kayak tipped and filled with water and we had to climb up on the downed tree,” the woman said. “Luckily, I had my phone and was able to call my husband, who was waiting for us a short way downstream. He came and rescued us. It’s a dangerous situation and even more so during high water.”
The woman said she learned that a local fire department had rescued four other people from the same strainer.
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to safely remove a strainer. Trees and rough terrain make it impossible to get heavy equipment into the river to remove the tree or cut it up with chain saws. The tree will likely remain there until high enough water dislodges it and moves it downstream, hopefully to a safer location.
Strainers are usually the result of riverbank erosion on a bend in the river. The water’s speed on the inside bend of the waterway slows down and the outside bend speeds up, like two horses on a racetrack. The net effect is that the outside bank washes away, loosening the grip of trees rooted along the shore and increasing the chance of them tumbling across the river.
It’s best to avoid this area and all known strainers. Always wear a life vest. Carry a cell phone in a waterproof bag or container but be aware that you can’t get cell phone coverage on all areas of our rivers.
What To Do If You Encounter a Strainer and Can’t Get By It
First, resist the urge to hug the inside corner of the river bend to paddle quickly away from the tree. The natural pull of the current will take you to the outside curve and bring you broadside against the tree. Your boat will be pinned, and worse, you’ll be pulled under, entangled and drown.
So, fight your instinct and point your canoe head-on to the strainer. Then back paddle and back ferry. This will direct you away from the fallen tree. The strong current will help you stay away from the blockage, go around the bend sideways, with the bow continually facing the sweeper.
A major problem exists if the tree is totally blocking the route. Hopefully only your canoe will get swamped and trapped and you’ll come out the other end wet, cold but alive. The only way to escape such an ordeal is to totally avoid flooded creeks and rivers and scout ahead on first-time river trips on a waterway.