As temperatures start to climb, more people are visiting Vermont’s lakes, rivers and swimming holes. And with mixed weather in the forecast, state health officials are reminding everyone that when in and around these natural waters – especially swimming holes – it is important to take precautions, check the weather and be aware of the conditions.
Tragically, each year there is at least one accidental drowning at a swimming hole or other recreational water spot. Already in 2022 one Vermonter has died at the Bolton Potholes, and four others in different locations since 2014. Older statistics are less definitive, as record-keeping has changed over time. But, more than two dozen accidental drownings are known to have taken place at Vermont swimming holes – including at Huntington Gorge in Huntington and Hamilton Falls at Cobb Brook in Jamaica.
“Vermont has many excellent recreation options for cooling off in the summer, but natural waters can be dangerous and there are important things to know before you go,” said Stephanie Busch, manager of the Department of Health’s Injury Prevention Program.
Busch cautioned that visitors to swimming holes should be especially careful after a heavy rain and consider going to another location. “Following a good rain – and sometimes for days after – the water moves fast and is unpredictable, and boulders or logs may have shifted. In addition, hidden rock formations below what might be a calm surface can create situations where even the strongest swimmers can, and do, get trapped,” said Busch. “Even if you have been swimming at the same spot year after year, what lies beneath may have changed.”
Smart decision-making can often avert a tragedy and will help you, your friends and loved ones stay safe while swimming this summer.
The Health Department offers recommendations for safe swimming.
Avoid drop-offs and hidden underwater obstacles in natural water sites. Do not dive into water. Always enter water feet-first.
Consider recent weather conditions. Heavy rainfalls can create potentially dangerous conditions in swimming holes, streams, rivers and waterfalls. High water conditions and strong undercurrents can linger several days after a storm, so swimmers need to assess the water depth and flow.
Never swim alone. Swimming alone is never a good idea, especially not in natural water bodies like swim holes.
Be aware of rapidly changing weather conditions. Check the weather forecast and watch for signs of change such as sudden storm clouds and high winds.
More information, including a swim hole safety tip sheet, is available at healthvermont.gov/watersafety.
“We want everyone to enjoy all that Vermont’s waters have to offer,” said Busch. “Know how to stay safe – and don’t risk yourself, or the person who might try to rescue you. Make sure there will be another day to enjoy fun and friends.”