REEDLEY – Boaters, jet skiers, rafters and swimmers will have one month to enjoy the cold refreshing-yet-risky waters of the Kings River this summer.
Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties mutually agreed to reopen the river for recreational purposes the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 1, more than four-and-a-half months after initially closing public access because of an exceptionally wet rainfall season and record snowpack level in the Sierra Nevada. By midweek, watercraft of all types returned to the river.
Restrictions have been lifted for all portions of the river below Pine Flat Dam to the Tulare-Kings County line, as well as through the other two counties’ sections of river which stretch from Lindy’s Landing north of Kingsburg to just beyond the Stratford area in Kings County.
Initially, both city and county parks along the Kings River remained closed as cleanup operations were necessary to prepare for the public’s return. In Reedley, City Manager Nicole Zieba said that Reedley Beach and Cricket Hollow Park just south of Olson Avenue intend to reopen to the public by this weekend.
City work crews are making last minute safety checks to portions of the parks, Zieba said, along with unclogging sewer connections packed by mud from the spring and summer water releases. A visit to Reedley Beach on Aug, 1 showed that the river has completely receded from the restroom facility and that the main sandbar for visitors was isolated only by a small shallow strip of river water. The main channel was flowing east of the beach area.
Tony Botti with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said in an Aug. 1 news release that Winton, Choinumni and Avocado Lake parks all north of Highway 180 remained closed this week along with Kingston Park in Laton, north of Hanford, as all those locations needed to have several hazards removed and maintenance work performed. No reopening dates were announced on Aug. 1.
The heavy precipitation season and historic snowpack-snow melt that was expected to follow led to Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni to order the river closed indefinitely on March 14. These created life-threatening conditions, and on May 22 two young children drowned when they were swept away by raging currents on the river just below Pine Flat Dam.
During the spring and summer, substantial water releases from the dam led to isolated flooding along the river. Reedley Beach and Cricket Hollow Park were closed while river waters covered much of the northern parking lot and partially submerged maintenance buildings at the Kings River Golf Club east of Kingsburg.
The historic heavy water flows also brought back Tulare Lake near Corcoran in Kings County, the normal terminus of the river. The lake, which in the 1800s and early 1900s was the largest freshwater body of water west of the Mississippi River, is expected to continue covering agriculture land well into next year.
In recent weeks, however, water levels have stabilized and waned considerably along the river, creating safer conditions for the public to access the river.
Nevertheless, Botti stressed that the public should remember that both the Kings and San Joaquin rivers remain extremely dangerous and hazardous. He said people familiar with the river will notice different water and stream patterns compared to year’s past.
There are numerous downed trees in the river channel, which Botti said creates a “strainers” condition where turbulent water flows through the tree. A person caught in a strainer can quickly find themselves pinned against the tree or even swept underneath debris. This makes for extremely difficult self-rescue conditions, and usually requires emergency help from trained rescue personnel.
“Please use good, safe judgment when entering the water,” Botti said.
The sheriff’s office also cautions the public to be aware of the cold water temperature, which is about 60 degrees. Exposure to that temperature can cause hypothermia, which can quickly lead to exhaustion of unconsciousness. Basic safety precautions to practice while doing water activities include wearing a life jacket, investing in high quality boating equipment, staying out of the water if you’re not an experienced swimmer, and do not mix alcohol and swimming.
Botti also urges extra caution with children on the water, including keeping an eye on them at all times. “In a matter of seconds, they can slip into the water and be put at risk for injury or death,” he said.
Once open, parks along the river will be open to the public for water activities through the Labor Day weekend.