Thinking of hopping in an inflatable inner tube to float the Arkansas River along any of the 152 miles within the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA)? Don't forget your personal flotation device (PFD), or life jacket as they are commonly known.
"PFDs are not just a smart recommendation for safety in the AHRA", said AHRA River Ranger Jeff Hammond. "They are mandatory safety gear throughout the recreation area, including the whitewater parks in Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City."
There's a good reason for the PFD rule, he said.
"We know for a fact that, every year, PFDs save lives," Hammond said, noting that AHRA rangers make it a priority to check for compliance. "River rangers patrol the water throughout the river corridor checking to make sure PFD laws are followed by everyone who floats the Arkansas on boats or inner tubes."
The AHRA is renowned for its world-class whitewater boating opportunities and the currents in the Arkansas vary from mild to wild. There are stretches of relatively calm Class I-II rapids punctuated by Class III-V rapids deemed extremely difficult and recommended for experts only.
Each year, more than 300,000 people come to the AHRA from across the nation to challenge those rapids - whether on commercial trips, as private rafters or kayakers, or as casual river users on inner tubes and other inflatable devices. They all make the AHRA one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the U.S.
Keeping all those people safe means requiring PFDs on everyone.
"All commercial boaters, all children under 13 and people on inner tubes are required to wear PFDs while on the water within the AHRA", Hammond said. "In addition, private boaters must have PFDs on board and readily accessible for each person."
PFDs are just part of the AHRA safety strategy.
"The AHRA is a strong advocate of river safety and has developed several river safety brochures and boater safety signs, which are posted along the river within the AHRA," Hammond said. "We are committed to educating and protecting everyone who recreates in the AHRA."