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June 12, 2014 12:20 AM

Higher Flows, More Snags Make Rapid Creek More Dangerous

Rapid City, SD

Rapid Creek is a picturesque part of life in Rapid City. But it also carries deadly potential.

This year has risen, along with the danger.

"Flows this spring are definitely up," Lt. Brent Long of the Rapid City Fire Department said. "We're not at record levels by any means, but they are consistently staying just about 200 cubic feet per second. What that means to us is we've got a fairly large body of water that's moving right through town."

Sometimes it moves where it isn't wanted, causing city officials to close parts of the bike path. But it's not just the water and how fast it's flowing that concerns Long and others. It's also what's in the water. Widespread tree damages from a powerful blizzard last October and subsequent storms left splitters limbs and tangles of branches that fell or washed into the creek.

While most of the debris was cleaned up, some remains, clogging channels and collecting in dangerous snags. And broken limbs still wait to fall in, posing future threats to tubers, kayakers and others who use the creek.

"We want people just to be aware of the different kind of strainers that are out there. That's what we call the downed trees and the bushes," Long said. "you also want to be aware that even a slow-moving body of water can still have a lot of power to it."

That power took over last week when a 7-year-old boy lost his footing and fell in. He was swept under a wood snag but quickly saved by an off-duty firefighter and another man who happened to be nearby.

It was a near-miss warning that city officials hope creek lovers will remember.

Long encourages people who float the creek to go with others, wear a life jacket and go feet first, to help protect themselves from snags and reduce the chances of a life-threatening accident.

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