In the wake of the tragic drowning of 9-year-old Madison Billups, Janesville city officials are rightly examining what should be done to keep people safe along the Rock River.
But they face a conundrum. While many believe Janesville should be doing a better job embracing the Rock River as a community amenity, there’s also no denying a river can be a dangerous body of water.
Janesville in recent years spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the river more attractive and more accessible, including at Anglers Park where Madison slipped beneath the water. After the Monterey Dam was removed, Anglers Park was created to give families easy access to the water and the fish that live there.
Madison and her older brother were enticed to the water at Anglers Park. The 9-year-old died when they lost their footing while wading in the swift water.
Family members and others have called on the city to make the area safer.
There’s no denying the water near Anglers Park is especially hazardous. Divers tasked with searching for Madison wouldn’t enter the swift current until the Indianford Dam was closed to lower the water.
The city should install signs in the area that make it clear, even to children, that the current at Anglers Park is treacherous.
And throwable flotation devices should be available. Imagine if fishers who saw Madison and her brother thrashing in the water could have thrown them a floating ring. A woman entered the river and rescued the boy, but Madison slipped away.
Last year, after a fisherman in a boat helped rescue an 8-year-old boy from the river downtown, the city hung throwable flotation devices at the downtown pier and along the river downstream. That makes sense at Anglers Park, too.
Some have called for fencing along the water at Anglers Park, but we don’t agree. A fence would hinder access to the water in an area intended for fishing, kayaking and other water-related recreation.
“It’s a difficult balancing act because you’re trying to provide access to the river. There’s a lot of people up and down that access Anglers Park for fishing. So the question is, how do you provide for safety yet allow other activities to occur?” city Public Works Director Paul Woodard told reporter Neil Johnson.
Not to mention that ice chunks and tree trunks carried by high water likely would rip out any fencing every spring.
The Rock River runs through 9 miles of the city.
“If you’re putting up fencing along the river, where do you start and where do you stop? How do you justify one area or another?” Woodard said.
Anytime there’s an accidental death, it’s prudent to look at what can be done to prevent another tragedy. At Anglers Park, there are steps the city can take to improve safety without ruining the site for water recreation.