Wave Bye-Bye? That Ill-Conceived Whitewater Feature on Trinity River Nearly Claims a Life.

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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On May 5 I wrote a column about the city's bungled "whitewater feature" in the Trinity River -- a fake rapids for kayaks that cost $4 million to build -- and I included the following observation about a so-called safe bypass around the fake rapids for canoers:

"One powerful current slams you hard from the left. Six feet later an even more powerful current hits you from the right. Just when you're going through that wringer, the water drops steeply and tries to make your canoe stand on end. It's like canoeing a giant Cuisinart."

On May 10, Dallas Mayor Dwaine Caraway joined Gail Thomas and Mary McDermott Cook of the Trinity Trust, a private group backing the Trinity River Project, in unveiling a new "paddling trail" for the portion of the river that includes the fake rapids.

On Saturday May 14 Theresa Patterson, 52, and Dathan Miller, 57, attempted to kayak that portion of the river. They describe themselves as fairly experienced kayakers but not experts. They are experienced divers. He is a rescue diver.

They scouted the river the day before and the day of their trek. They could see that the water going over the fake rapids was too strong for them, but a man who identified himself as an engineer at the city's ongoing construction site at the "wave" told them they would be safe going to the far side of the river and passing through the canoe "bypass."

The bypass is supposed to provide safe passage for families and others in canoes who would not be able to survive the rapids. Generally speaking and for most people, kayaks are safer in whitewater than canoes.

The feature itself is two dams all the way across the river. On the right is a broad area of turbulence for kayakers. On the far left are the two narrow concrete walled chutes for canoes, one just downriver from the first.

Miller and Patterson passed a set of signs erected by the city -- one telling them to use the canoe bypass, the other saying not to use the bypass, as they remember it, another telling them to portage.

The problem is that in order to cross a moving current in a river the size of the Trinity, you have to begin doing it at least 100 yards before the point where you need to wind up. They decided to go with what the construction engineer had told them and go for the two bypass chutes on the left-hand bank.

Miller went first and disappeared beneath the foam at the bottom. Just as Patterson hit the first of two narrow walled waterfalls making up the bypass, she saw him pop back up to the surface at the bottom of the second one. He had survived it. But at that moment, she was in it.

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Photo by Harry Wilonsky
"I was kind of surprised by how steep the first waterfall was," she says. "I really wasn't expecting a serious drop on a canoe bypass. My kayak was fine with that part of it. But I was surprised. I managed to handle that, center-line perfect, and went into the second one.

"I was almost to the bottom of the second one when some kind of a water-jet or something slammed me from the left to the right and literally slammed me into that wall that separates the bypass from the main wave. I slammed into it pretty hard, but I raised up my paddle and was able to push off of it.

"When I pushed off, I was aimed out where Dathan was, on river-left, but all of a sudden, I didn't even see what happened, but my guess is that the current pushed my boat over. It grabbed the nose of my boat. Even though I was aiming slightly river-left, it pushed me the other way, and all of a sudden I was underwater.

"I didn't even have a moment to see what happened to get me there. I maneuvered to right the kayak, and immediately something slammed me back down again, and I realized I wasn't going to be able to spin it.

"I pulled out of the boat and came up beside it. I thought, well, I'll just swim out of it. Normally if you're in turbulence and you get dumped, you can just swim out. But it teased me. It look like it was going to work, and all of a sudden something grabbed my ankles and I was underwater again."

Five times. She tried to swim out, and five times the powerful vortex created by the city's "safe" canoe bypass grabbed her and pulled her underwater again.

The whole time, Miller was battling furiously to paddle in to her, trying to get at least close enough to throw a safety rope, but the current kept pushing him away. He watched her go down and down again.

"I was wearing good flotation gear," she said, "but it wasn't helping."

She was in the whirlpool for 10 minutes.

"I'm getting really tired of getting jerked under the water. I'm getting very, very tired, and that's scaring me, because I realize I'm losing energy at a very fast rate."

Finally Patterson came up with an escape strategy. She could feel powerful currents around the top of her body pulling her back into the whirlpool but strong current beneath her pushing out into the center of the river below the whirlpool.

Her boat had been whirling around her all this time. By grabbing the boat and pushing it down, she was able to fill it with water. Once full of water and only partially floating, the boat became a kind of weighted sail down in the lower current. She dove underwater with it, held on, and it pulled her out to safety at last.

Patterson told me she was very close to dying out there. She said a group of men at the city's construction site stood on the bank and watched in silence the whole time.

Somebody at City Hall knows what they've done. Somebody has a conscience. Someone knows that kids and mothers and grandpas are going to go through this thing, and their deaths will be on the hands of the fools who have promoted it. Somebody needs to go out there at night with a big Caterpillar tractor and rip this piece of junk out of the damn river.

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Fatherrichard
Fatherrichard

We own and live on land close to the Horse Park. Imagine how impressed we were with the City of Dallas when we saw a map on the internet showing our land as already taken into the horse park. The map had a company seal and obviously represented a sizable expense. This the was first anyone in our area had heard of the Horse Park being so "close" to us. On the same web site it stated that "community involvement" was one of the three main points of the Park. City of Dallas arrogantly putting people at risk rather than humbly looking at their record and accepting that they might have relyed on well credentialed idiots.... again? Are you saying you don't believe it because - (pause here for effect) - history has shown that can't happen? Let's talk water dynamics while people drown. On paper I'm sure that someone thought it was safe. Maybe when someone dies, we can bury them in that paper! I'm sure the City can provide enough of it to justify ignoring what really happens, again.   Sorry if it is "moronic" to believe that the past is the best indicator of the future, but it takes a lot of education to overcome the truth. The City officials are well educated.

Bearhuggermcl
Bearhuggermcl

YO, MAYOR.  THOSE KAYAKERS ARE MY FRIENDS.  I'M WITH JIM.  SHUT 'ER DOWN.

EEBBJJ
EEBBJJ

Wasn't this Trinity River Project supposed to be a flood control project that saved lives? That is what EBJ told us. You'll drown if you don't vote for it! Oh the irony.

RTGolden
RTGolden

The initials should tell you all you need to know about this project: EBJ Expensive Blow Job.

db
db

I just don't understand why we can't have a plan to clean up the flood plain and keep it clean, mow it in some areas, put in some walking and bike paths and provide some access points, and perhaps a board walk, allowing street vendors, along the levees.

JimS
JimS

You mean like this?http://www.riverlegacy.org/

JimS
JimS

All of Dallas's worst ideas come from the Park Cities --- where this thing came from.  The suburbs are blessed by not being on the radar of Parkies with checkbooks.

Catbird
Catbird

Who in the world thought this was a good idea in the first place? Was this "wave" thing on the ballot? Where did this idea originate? Did Calatrave have anything to do with it? Just very curious about the magic thinking that got us to where we are...

Gregdallas
Gregdallas

I thought it was a great idea...

engmofo
engmofo

I've said it before & I'll say it again,where is my Skatepark & who were you Kayakers blowing to get this thing in the frist place 

dallasmay
dallasmay

I don't think the city owns ALL of the blame here, not even most of it. Where is the engineer that signed and sealed this thing? Where is the contractor? Those companies have insurance, don't they? They should pay for the repairs and redesign. 

JimS
JimS

Maybe not all the blame for who bilt it the wrong way. But the city is solely and wholly responsible for protecting the public from harm as a result of it.

md
md

It was a good thing she was so resourceful.

I don't think I would have thought of that escape strategy.

JimS
JimS

JOnnyDallas: you make a number of strong points. Here is what is so extremley frustrating. All City Hall has to do is ask itself whether it has ever done anything like this before or knows anything about it. When the answer is no, then it needs ot go talk to people who are knowledgeable. One person who knows every inch of this river in a canoe, for example, is Charles Allen. They never spoke to him. The play-boat people simply do not tend to be people who are in tune with or know a lot about natural river settings.  Consultants are just people who sell stuff.  They are not reliable sources of objective expertise. I'm not syaing tear the whle thing out, by the way. But tear out that damned canoe chute system before it kills somebody. A river is one of the most basic public thoroughfares on earth. People just use it. Always. They just will. If you put something in it that will kill people, the answer is not to tell people to stay out of the river. It's to take your crap our of their way. 

JonnyDallas
JonnyDallas

Jim, if you would like to we could meet up at city hall, on the deserted plaza, and hold up a big sign thats says "Pull Your Heads Out Of Your Asses". I would be happy to hold up one end whilst you hold the other. The point I want to make that differs from yours is that the wave is a good thing. The bypass is a necessary and a good idea, just poorly built.

Lets get that thing fixed, not removed.

And yeah, they should of not only spoken to Charles, but let him sit on an advisory committee.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Didn't they hire a guy out of Colorado to design this thing?

JimS
JimS

They are suggesting strongly that what was bilt here is not what they designed.

Ben
Ben

Teresa contacted me about her party's mishap about 10 days ago I mentioned it in the comments of another story. Just to add, this happened at 1000 cfs. At that flow there really is not much difference in just running the open wave rather than just taking the bypass. If portage is not an option at the last minute, I would rather just go over the standing wave itself rather than be hemmed in by the narrow confines of the bypass walls.

I would also not listen to anyone claiming to be an engineer on the site. The construction crews on site are involved in the design and construction of the Santa Fe Trestle Trail. They have nothing to do with the Dallas Wave.

Teresa
Teresa

Would have been nice to know that at the time.  The engineer knew an awful lot about the project and definitley led us to believe he knew what he was talking about when he said it was safe.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

@ben - You're right. Ark is off the job-site now that the sidewalks and parking are completed. Anyone out there now works for Masana and has nothing to do with SW.

Gregdallas
Gregdallas

I guess a negative story sells papers but do we really want to live in a city that takes away anything that we might get hurt on?  We already have a city that won't let people use most of the water features and park land that they own due to someone might do something dumb and get hurt.  And makes us ride bikes with helmets on.  How about we just put a sign out that says "Dangerous but fun.... do this at your own risk" because in my experience most fun things are a little dangerous.   As i remember this is considered a class 3 rapid... This is not a swimming pool and by the way people drown in swimming pools every year.  Should we rip all those up too? The city of Denver owns a ski resort where people get hurt should all the hills be “Green” so no one gets hurt… and if someone were to get hurt should they just bulldoze the whole thing. 

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

The point is, the system was (at least as far as I know) supposed to be set up for all levels of user.  Go right if you want the rapids and an adventure in your kayak, go left if you want smooth water for your open canoe.  It was designed as a feature meant to attract everyone. 

From reading the accounts, that's not what we got.  Fine, both sides are an adventure.  No problem there.  But when that's what is happening, you can't keep trumpeting the thing as suitable for all users.  You have to put up some warnings that using the bypass could cause you problems, and make sure that everyone using the river knows the risks.

Oh, and one final point:  someone mentioned that the city doesn't own, and therefore isn't responsible for the river.  That's true.  However, the city is responsible for the construction on said river that they designed and paid for.  If that construction is dangerous, the city is liable when something goes wrong. 

Reality
Reality

Sorry, but all your examples miss the mark!!! 

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

A friend of mine was struck by a car while'st using an open crosswalk. I think that we should get rid of streets.

JimS
JimS

Did the city install special sight barriers so that automobiles would not be able to see pedestrains entering the thoroughfare?

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

No, but they did install red lights at the intersection, and that nice little crosswalk sign that says go. But she got hit anyway, so that intersection is obviously fatally flawed and should be removed post-haste.

Wait though...... even walking on crosswalks across busy streets where cars drive is inherently dangerous though......... POP! (my brain exploded).

JonnyDallas
JonnyDallas

Mr. Schutze, I am an avid reader of your columns, and generally agree with you. I think it is important that someone with a voice criticizes our city and other government agencies. You certainly do a great job in that regard.

But on this one you've gotten a little too angry, and gone a little too far. That bypass is dangerous, yes. That bypass was poorly constructed, yes. That the standing wave is a bad idea and should be removed? No. A big fat no. It should of been built correctly in the first place, and now should be properly re-constructed. Dallas needs things like a paddling trail and bike/hiking trails and generally outdoorsy stuff. And it should be FREE. No charge to go down to the river and paddle around and look at birds and fishes and stuff and have a picnic and whatever else people want to do. This is a city of concrete and glass. Anything that gets people reconnected to nature is a good thing. Even if it takes some concrete rapids to get them interested. I've paddled the standing wave/kayak run in Boulder Colorado many times, and its AWESOME fun. The city of Dallas should have one too. I know you like paddling on White Rock Lake. Why you don't want to see improvements to the Trinity that would encourage people to paddle on it confuses me? The stupidly expensive bridges? I totally agree with you, they are wasteful and stupid. A tollway inside the broken levees? Stupid. Something that the people of North Texas can enjoy and encourages them to get out of their car and onto the water. Thats a GREAT IDEA.

You suggest in the comments that the people who enjoy the challenge of a standing wave and white water run go to Six Flags instead. Wow. That's shallow, dude.

You should be screaming about fixing the wave, not tearing it out. You should also be screaming about  cleaning up the river upstream, where it runs through Irving and then downtown, because it is a MESS. Concrete pilings and garbage and construction debris and who knows what.

Have you seen what Fort Worth has done with its portion of the Trinity? I'd be curious to see a comparison between what Dallas has/wants to do with what Fort Worth has done/wants to do. That would be a great story.

ts
ts

At what point does the coverage of this issue (and the ill-conceived bridge) get tiresome?  Yes it sucks, was poorly planned, and never should have happened, we get it.  Knight jumps queen, bishop jumps queen, pawns jump queen.  Gangbang!

Ardy
Ardy

Haven't we had double the typical rainfall lately? If the river is up, perhaps the bypass won't behave as designed.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Dallas managed to build something really cool.Not what they wanted but still really cool.

What seems to be forgotten is these features  are going to behave in different ways based on the flow of the water.

Figure that out and the problem is solved.

Heywood U Buzzoff
Heywood U Buzzoff

You know what would set that dangerous slip-n-slide for paddlers right as rain. A Calatrava bridge!  Yup, just install one small Calatrava bridge and maybe a toll road.  Then  things will be perfect.  And the county constables can patrol the area to make sure it goes as plush as a Hinohosa mustache. 

CueCat
CueCat

Just be glad the City of Dallas does not manufacture airplanes.  If they did, I'd be afraid to walk outside..

Likeicare
Likeicare

Does someone have to actually die to stop the nonsense?

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Morons. If the city has openly said that they are looking into options on modifying the bypass then why do you decide to go through it. STAY OUT OF THERE.

If I told my wife that we had a gas leak in our house so she probably shouldn't go lighting the pilot in the stove until I get a plumber to come check things out - and THEN she decides she wants to make some chili and blows up the house. Who's the idiot in that scenario???? You say "Well just shut off the gas! Problem solved!"

You can't shut off the Trinity River dumbasses. The city has said that they are looking into it stay away until they are finished. OH AND BY THE WAY... many many many experienced kayackers have used the bypass without NO problems at all. I've seen it with my two eyes.

Morons.

cp
cp

Since when does the City of Dallas *OWN* the Trinity River???

If they want to go around making "modifications", they need to ensure the safety of EVERYONE, dumbass "moron" or not. It's the one function the government is *supposed* to do well- ensure the safety of the citizens, regardless of IQ, or of reading comprehension of the Dallas Observer blog (or the Dallas Morning News for that matter, but let's see what they have to say about this matter.....)

I should not have to be an experienced KAYAKER in order to navigate the Trinity River in my canoe for its paltry little 12 miles through Dallas. This is not about turning an unused section of river into a recreation asset that the City had never dreamed of- people have been canoeing the Trinity River for at least 12,000 years- it's about turning a PUBLIC ASSET into a hazard. Nothing more and nothing less.

And, by-the-way, I don't care how many "experienced kayackers" have managed through this stupid chute, the fact remains, it's a public resource, to be enjoyed by all, and not only those who are certified professionals. 

RTGolden
RTGolden

Actually, the City of Dallas does, in effect, 'own' a portion of the Trinity River, as do all municipalities, counties and states along it's course.  This is the case with every stream, creek, river, slough and canal in the country.

It is not the responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of everyone.  Your safety is your personal responsibility.  It is the responsibility of the government to promote the general welfare of the society as a whole (some might argue that allowing very stupid people to meet their ends doing very stupid things would do just that).  If the government was directly responsible for EVERYONE'S safety, what activity, worth doing, would be legal? Running, no it causes shin splints and killed Jim Fixx.  Football?, obviously not. (get that to pass in TX). Driving? Kills more people than smoking, guns, and kayaking combined.  If government is in charge of leisure, it'll be PBS and Knitting circles for everyone.

That being said, you're correct on one point.  The 'Canoe Bypass' should be just that, a way to bypass the rougher water in a safe-for-those-with-common-sense manner.  It should not be a narrow, stone-walled chute with a steep descent and artificially created turbulence.  There's any number of things wrong with the design of the bypass.  Maybe they'll get Laura Miller to contract those 'flying guerilla' consultants to find out what went wrong.

Gregdallas
Gregdallas

Sounds like a boring city to me...  provide me a few fun things to do and let me deside if it is too dangerous for me or not...

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

And why can't you enjoy the river anymore???? Get out, walk 100 feet and get back in.

Maybe the solution here is no further expenditure of construction funds. Put up better warning signage and upgrade the rapids class. Right now it's a 3. Upgrade and warn people of the difficulty - tell them to use the City provided portage and enjoy their day. If you don't want to run into the Waves at all then go to Fort Worth and kayak their side. Nobody is forced to go through the structures - I truly don't understand the complaints about this project. It's fun, it's unique, but it's not for everyone - what so different here compared to any other project?

JimS
JimS

We're probably more on the same page than not. One of the craziest things about this whole site is the huge amount of concrete they have poured to make the whitewater feature ADA compliant. In order to keep the slope of the concrete portage trail at ADA standards, they have switch-backed it so many times that you would have to carry your canoe three times the distance if you stuck to the pavement, so the people I know who have portaged there just cut across the mud/grass. On the one hand, I'm kind of a bleeding heart pro-ADA liberal. On the other, I've never seen guys in wheelchairs carrying a canoe or kayak. I hiked the Grand Canyon a few years ago, and it definitely is not ADA-compliant. The wave itself is cool with me. My problem is that the city has bilt what amounts to a hazared to navigation for canoes that wasn't there before, a serious hazard, and, woirse, they don;t even get that that's what theyhave done. So keep the wave, fix the bypass.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Point taken, but at this point the bypass is a Class 3 lol. Somebody can fill me in - is their a sign that actually points out the bypass? I've seen the warning sign in the parking lot, but I can't remember if it directs people to the bypass itself.

I like your analogy a lot, but i think that it's still more simple. I think by looking and walking on the concrete you are accepting that it's hard and can hurt you if you aren't prepared for it. It's not the City's responsibility or right to dictate that you don't jump up in the air, because it's public property and you have the right to. By choosing to kayak in a rapids environment you are accepting that it's dangerous and harm can come your way. I think that line of responsibility lies sort-of in what Jim said towards the end of the comments here. That either the city should put up HUGE warning signs 100 yards from the portage saying get out if you don't want to run a Class 3 or greater (forget the bypass channel improvements), and/or re-configure the bypass channel completely (Jim's comment). Like I said before MY opinion is that it's fine, but I can definitely see that Dallas' marketing machine is at a minimum misguided in the information it's providing to the public.

I'm a libertarian I guess.

Renegade
Renegade

I don't get why you keep referring to the bypass chute as "Class 3 Rapids."  If its purpose is to avoid the Class 3 Rapids entirely, then it should serve that purpose.  If the bypass chute is intended to BE Class 3 Rapids, then it should be labled as such, not as a "bypass chute." 

Comparing this to your basketball court analogy, it's like having a curtain up by the rim with a sign that says, "Use the happy fun slide behind this curtain to avoid crashing to the concrete below."  And then there is no slide behind the curtain, just an unhappy, nonfun crash to the concrete. 

zobzerto
zobzerto

"You can't shut off the Trinity River dumbasses."

Who are these Trinity River Dumbasses? And why can't they be shut off? 

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Well iamronburgundy certainly is one of the biggest, ask him when the next meeting is.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

@Grump Demo: We're meeting at Heart Attack Grill tomorrow night. You're the guest of honor.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

They have plugs in the back of their heads so that they can be inserted into the Solar Powered Water Taxis to give them some juice on cloudy days.

JimS
JimS

So, Iamron: Your points are, 1) the city's thinking about fixing it, so stay off the river until they do, and 2) The city can't tell people to stay off the river, and 3) it's perfectly safe. Maybe you should be more cautious about tossing out terms like moron.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

What I'm saying is 1) The City has said that they are investigating altering it based upon a very small handful of complaints (find me a City of Dallas project that doesn't have dissenters and I'll give you a million bucks) - so maybe the naysayers should reserve judgement until the investigation/alterations are complete 2) Multiple experienced kayakers have said the thing is perfect and requires no changes 3) Portage was constructed so people who don't feel comfortable can go around

I can't wait for some stupid moron to fall off the edge of the deck park onto Woodall Rogers, then all the people who thought that it was a stupid project to begin with will be like "See I told you that putting a park on-top of a highway was just a big expensive deathtrap!!!!" Each person has personal responsibility for their own safety. I personally think that the Waves are fine as-is, I can also understand if they want to remove the boulders to smooth it out. But I'm telling you that it won't matter, some people are born to hate and will continue to do so no matter what you do.

If I want to play basketball at City of Dallas park and I go for a dunk, fall and break my leg can I then logically go to the Park and Rec department and say "Hey I told you that concrete is hard, so so so.... I'm suing you for building a basketball court out of concrete and not something soft like grass!!!!" NO, I chose to go to a City of Dallas FREE park and got hurt doing something that I made the personal decision to do. My responsibility. The City provided a white water feature pure and simple, and also provided a way to avoid it if you don't want to go through it.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Obviously "free park" is semi loaded because we do pay for it with our taxes, but my point is the same.

TrueMORON
TrueMORON

Your an idiot, they are trying to prevent others from Dying. I agree, everyone should stay out until they remedy the situation, but its taken a process of experimentation to make these conclusions. Otherwise, everyone would have just called bullshit on their assessments until someone died. Schutze has probably saved lives. Once again, way to go Schutze! We know who the real MORON is! 

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Nobody died. Somebody got flipped around in a rapid. If you ask the guys from Big D Whitewater to go out there and run the SW, they will go through the bypass, then back up into the wave in the upper dam, flip around, spin, flip over, go down over the second wave and do the same thing. No problem.

If you want to take a leisurely canoe or kayak trip, portage and go around.

JimS
JimS

You're not talking about kayak trippers. You're talking about play-boaters, who are to rivers what 4WD mudders are to trails. You guys are park and riders, and there are maybe 100 of you in the entire Metroplex. Why screw up a wonderful natural resource that could be enjoyred by thousands of people for a dozen nerds whgo'd be just as happy at Six Flags?

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

"...*with no problems...."

kayaking kayak king
kayaking kayak king

Um, iam, are they morons for trying to use a chute that "many many many" people have used  (kudos, btw, on the comma boycott), or morons for not being experienced kayakers? In either case, if the bypass is only for pros, why have it? That's like a having a kiddy table with a two drink minimum.

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