May 30 incident, a 19-year-old was standing on the banks of the river at Castlewood when he slipped into the Meramec at mid-afternoon. He was underwater for 10 minutes before two men were able to find him in the river and pull him out.
He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. This area has experienced an unusually high number of drownings. The surface of the water often may look calm, but there are strong currents and undertows just below.
Charlie Woodruff, a 22-year-old Webster University student, knows the Castlewood Park area well. The bluffs along the river offer excellent views. Trails above the river offer pretty walks past the ruins of a 1950s’ resort area.
Hikes on trails along the river offer nature rewards as well, but Charlie Woodruff says the park’s reputation for bucolic trails and natural beauty is being ruined and overwhelmed by the sheer number of fatalities among those who decide to take a dip in the Meramec River.
More than 16 people have drowned in the Castlewood river stretch in a score of years. It’s a length of less than 60 feet along the park’s beach. Ages of the deceased have ranged from 10 to 35, and one victim was even a lifeguard.
Charlie Woodruff has had enough of the river deaths and the resulting heartache. He recently penned an opinion piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled: “Currents of Tragedy: Authorities should be more proactive about preventing drownings at Castlewood.”
Woodruff’s safety recommendations:
• Start by making it better known how many individuals have died. A few years ago, a family set up crosses in honor of the many deceased, but they were eventually taken down. I believe a permanent memorial installation of sorts should be in place at the main entrance to the beach. Even if it is just a stone pillar with the names and ages of those who have died, it would hopefully cause some people to stop and reconsider swimming.
• It would be helpful to have some sort of safety mechanisms stationed near the water for those who will inevitably ignore the warnings. Having emergency floatation devices for shore dwellers to throw to drowning victims. Items like lifebuoys could save countless lives. While you can argue that this will simply encourage more people to swim, a simple sign above the apparatus stating the risks of the Meramec can fully negate this. Additional measures, like an emergency blue light box, posted CPR instructions, or a diagram on how to escape an undertow, could also help bring down the mortality rate of the river.
• Finally, on the more extreme end, they could simply make it illegal to swim. Park officials could fine individuals who chose to get in the river despite the warnings. This may not deter everyone from getting into the water, but at the very least it will make people think twice before doing so.
Woodruff has it right. The enclave of wilderness and river scenery needs to be safer. Castlewood needs its reputation back for bucolic trails and natural beauty – and not for its number of drowning fatalities in the flowing Meramec River.
Charlie Woodruff’s opinion piece appeared in the June 22 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
(EE writer Don Corrigan is the author of the nature book, Show Me … Natural Wonders, which includes a water colour cover of the bluffs and river at Castlewood.)