WHITE CO., Ark. (KTHV) - On hot days, the waterways of Arkansas can be enticing, but after a couple of recent drownings, experts are warning about the danger of the Little Red River.
Two kayakers have drowned in the Little Red in the last couple of months, including one last week. A fishing guide who lives on the river said the abundance of water in Greers Ferry Lake causes treacherous conditions on the Little Red.
“The lake is still four foot above normal, from back in the spring,” Greg Seaton mentioned, “so they’re still releasing water to lower the lake. That’s why we’re having the generation we’re having now.”
Most days, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires both generators in the dam to operate for 15 hours a day to lower the water level in Greers Ferry Lake. Seaton, who has been a guide on the river for 11 years, says the river rises about 8 feet with the additional water from the lake.
“Life jackets are a must in high water, but you have to know how to use them,” he added. “You can’t go [swim up] to a dock on the upstream side in a life jacket. The current will pull you under the dock. And I don’t care how strong you are, you cannot pull yourself up.”
That is what happened to Raymond Myers, 54, from Lake Charles, Louisiana, who drowned in the river on Thursday. His daughter rescued him from underneath one dock after he fell out of a kayak, but he became trapped under another and died.
“And if you have that happen on your dock,” Seaton stated, “which is right behind me—they try to revive a person and they can’t revive him—it’ll stick with you for a while.”
Seaton believes many of the kayakers on the river, like Myers and his daughter, are tourists. He thinks most of them are inexperienced, and do not know which spots to stay away from when the water rises.
“Kayaking has become a real big item lately,” he said. “It’s an inexpensive way to get on the water. They can buy a kayak for $200 or $300 and come to the lake, or the river, and enjoy their day.”
When the Greers Ferry Dam’s generators are off, Seaton said the Little Red flows at about 20 cubic feet per second. “It’s just a slow, easy drift down the river,” he explained. “That’s when you want to kayak and canoe, is when it’s a beautiful, slow drift. You can paddle, and go on down the river and not worry about anything. If you turn over then, you can stand up.”
Myers and his daughter discovered how delightful the Little Red can be in the morning hours before the release from the dam makes its way downstream.
“They had canoed that morning in low water, in through the same area, through here, and they had enjoyed their day,” Seaton recalled. “And they had such a good time—they were going [home] the next day—and they decided to take the kayaks that were at the cabin and go out that afternoon.”
Seaton stressed that he does not want to stop anyone from getting in a kayak and enjoying the Little Red. He just believes people need to know what the water is capable of.
“If you’re not familiar with it, get in the lake, or a body of water that doesn’t have current, and at least get accustomed to it," he said. "Or go enjoy your day up at the lake and kayak, and paddle around, fall out, and swim if you want to. It doesn’t hurt you at all.”
The Southwestern Power Administration releases projected power generation schedules. The information is also available on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ phone app.