TOWN OF FULTON

Edgerton firefighters had the sad task of recovering a girl’s body from the Yahara River at Murwin County Park in May 2019.

Then this July, five people enjoying a ride down the scenic waterway were thrown from their canoe at the same spot.

Everyone survived the most recent incident, but Chief Randy Pickering of the Edgerton Fire Protection District said a letter published in The Gazette spurred action.

Pickering said his department got Rock County government officials, Department of Natural Resources wardens, Dewey’s Towing and Recovery, and water-rescue teams from the Beloit, Edgerton and Janesville fire departments to the accident site in Murwin County Park on Tuesday.

The river is a beautiful place to canoe or kayak, said Rich Bostwick, a county board member who teaches canoeing and kayaking and who came to watch the work.

But the river takes a 90-degree turn in the park, blinding paddlers to a tree that protrudes into the water just around the bend, Pickering said.

That’s where canoes and kayaks have capsized, throwing paddlers into a current that suddenly accelerates as the river narrows, Pickering said.

The current shoots into an even sharper bend a short distance downstream. It throws anything that floats into a tangle of mostly submerged trees.

The 14-year-old Janesville girl who died got caught under one of those trees, Pickering said.

Tuesday, firefighters cut off protruding limbs and attached rope to a stump sticking out of the water. They weren’t sure what the stump was attached to.

A standard-sized Dewey’s wrecker activated its winch. A large, heavy, waterlogged tree slowly emerged from the water like an ancient shipwreck.

“We’ve just learned something,” Pickering said.

The tree caught on a sandbar. The rope snapped. A much bigger wrecker finished the job.

At least one more tree remained under the water at that point, and the plan was to remove it and clean up some other protruding trees, including the one at the 90-degree bend upstream, Pickering said.

Future paddlers caught in the current now have a better chance of survival, although they could end up stranded at the base of a steep, sandy embankment.

“If they can get up to the shoreline, they can at least get up to the sand so we can go get them,” Pickering said.

Water rescues are rare, but the Edgerton firefighters have been called to five of them this year. Most were on the Rock River or Lake Koshkonong.

Pickering said it’s likely that people who were cooped up this spring to avoid the coronavirus were looking for ways to have fun outdoors while staying out of crowds.

Ask anyone selling canoes or bicycles, Pickering said. They’re often sold out.

Pickering noted that the river’s natural inclination is to cut into the bank at the steep curve. Eventually, the river will undermine more trees, which will fall into the water.

Pickering plans to monitor the site and take action to remove any dangerous snags that develop in the future.

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