The Ashlyn Grace Paddle Safe Group works to help kayakers informed of some of the dangers of local waters.
The group is named for the local girl killed in a boating accident on the Duck River last year.
Group founder Kenneth Russell, a 15-year EMT, rescue squad member with Farmington Fire Department wanted to do something about a rising trend of water-related fatalities in the region.
“I felt like I should share my experience with people,” Russell said. “So I started a little group called Self-Rescue and Survival.”
Then in May 31, 2020, the Garbision Family kayaking trip below the Normandy Dam took a tragic turn when the 15-year old Ashlyn was killed.
“That set things into motion,” Russell said. “I was able to get the family’s permission to name group in Ashlyn’s honor.”
The group has grown since then and expanded to include training classes in paddling safety. Russell is certified merit badge counselor for Boy Scouts in water safety as well as swift water rescue certified.
Russell l said that the American Canoe Association approved curriculum is geared toward the audience he’s training.
“I specialize in special needs families, kids, adults, people with disabilities, things of that nature. The first timers, those afraid of water and those who can’t swim too well,” Russell said.
As weather warms and people are drawn to watersports, now is a great time to brush up on water safety.
“With the influx of boats with the pandemic, these classes are a way to keep people safe and help them understand the dangers of the river,” he said.
Dangers can range from downed trees that can trap a paddler swift water sections or boulders that must be traversed.
This post from the group shows the potential dangers in otherwise calm water.
“Last week my friend and I were fishing on the Duck River near the 41A Bridge,” writes James Coleman. “My buddy saw a young man enter a set of riffles and was swept under a log on his kayak. The kayak flipped and the young man was pinned momentarily under said log.”
Coleman advises, “If you're unsure how to handle an unsafe set of riffles that sweeps near an obstruction paddle over to a shoal. ( if available ) Then exit your kayak and drag it until you’re past the unsafe obstruction.”
It’s these simple things you may not know to do that can make all the difference.
“The whole goal is to get them a 101-level training. And with this training, I can show them how to avoid 98% of river dangers they are going to face in this area,” Russell.
Russell it’s important to be able to assess your own skills, check the weather before the trip to anticipate dangerous conditions and how to plan the trip and route.
Russell is a ACA L2 kayak certified instructor and has co-founded the veteran group Combat to Calm Combat Paddlers group out of Chattanooga to help those with PTSD.