Assessing Salt Fork Boating/Tubing Conditions at Camp Drake

So you're a scout leader at Camp Drake near Oakwood, IL. It's rained recently. How do you know if the river is not too high?

Background

In 2013, my son's troop experienced dangerous conditions on the Salt Fork while tubing from Camp Drake. A tree had fallen across the river, and swift river conditions drove the tubers into the tree, resulting in several scouts becoming dangerously entangled. The incident happened Friday, June 28 2013.

The tree had not posed difficulties for tubers on the previous day, because the water level was even higher, and carried tubers over the tree.

A natural question: How do you determine if the river is too high to safely do a tubing trip? I am using data from the US Geological Survey (river gauge) to try to answer this question. I've attached a PDF with some data from the day of the incident (June 28 2013) and today's date (July 4, 2014).

Conclusions

  1. In a recent example this week, the DNR announced boating restrictions on the Middle Fork on July 1 and July 2 2014. The DNR opened the Middle Fork on July 3, 2014, when the Middle Fork was at 3.5 ft. The Salt Fork was at about 5 ft at that time. Probably should consider the Salt Fork restricted to boating when the Salt Fork river gauge exceeds 5 ft.

  2. 75th percentile for Salt Fork river gauge on July 4 is about 4 ft. When you reach over 4 ft, the river is pretty high. Use caution, you may not want to take beginners or young scouts on the river.

  3. During the tubing incident on June 28, 2013, river gauge on the Salt Fork was at about 4 ft.