UPPER DELAWARE -An intensive campaign by the National Park Service to educate the public about life jackets is involving others as well from camps to liveries.

UPPER DELAWARE -  An intensive campaign by the National Park Service to educate the public about life jackets is involving others as well from camps to liveries.
   There has been one drowning on the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River so far in 2014, and at least two misses where the person in trouble was rescued just in time.
    Chief Ranger Joseph Hinkes, National Park Service, told the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), August 7th, that the Park Service is taking a different approach, by involving the community and studying the demographics and behaviors of people.

••• 'Why did he do that?'

   In the case of the 22-year old man that drowned May 25 at Hansom Eddy near Barryville, he was wearing the jacket in the boat. He decided to go for a swim and was removing his life jacket. His friends told him not to do it. His body was not found until Friday, June 3rd, five miles downstream, near Pond Eddy.
   "Why did he do that?," Hinkes asked, rhetorically.
      Since 1980, 66 people have drowned in the Upper Delaware. In 2011 there were five people that drowned here. Every one of the victims were not wearing a life jacket or was not wearing one properly, according to the Park Service. Hinkes said that most of the people who have drowned in that time have been male (95%), and in their late teens or twenties (59%). "This is the hardest group to get a behavior change," he observed.  
   An intern at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is studying specifically where people who come here to paddle are from, with the aim to reach them with the safety message before they arrive.
   Just a week before the meeting there was a person rescued from drowning at Staircase Rapids; there was another over the 4th of July weekend at Skinner's Falls. Public citizens and emergency responders took part in the rescues.
   Hinkes stated that "engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response" all plays a role. Engineering involving designing good life jackets that people will be more likely to wear. Most liveries have changed styles of the jackets to a more comfortable, better fitting model.
   Park Service Law Enforcement rangers are taking a high profile approach. Life jackets must be worn if the river level is at least six feet. Rangers issue warnings first. "Inevitably we see them again- the river flows one way," he said. If they have taken off their life jackets after passing the first ranger, the next one will ticket them.
    Effective relationships are being built with other stake-holders. At the beginning of summer camp season, rangers meet with counselors during orientation to brief them about life jacket usage.
   National Canoe Safety Patrol is also a strong partner with the Park Service in emphasizing safety.
   Rangers bring safety message programs to area schools.

••• "WEAR IT" lawn signs

   The Park Service also welcomes citizen input. Hinkes credited Laurie Stuart with a wonderful suggestion to post lawn signs in the area to encourage wearing of life jackets.
   Taking that suggestion, the Park Service contacted the National Safe Boating Council for a logo to use.  This logo, showing a life jacket and the words, "WEAR IT", is encircled with the words "Swimming, Boating, Fishing, Floating."
   It has been reproduced as lawn signs, decals and magnets.
   Consistent messaging is important, he said. Kitttatiny Canoes is using the "WEAR IT" logo on staff T-shirts.
   Hinkes said that the "WEAR IT" signs are available at no charge to anyone that wants to display them. Contact the Park Service Interpretive office at the Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen, at 570-685-4871.    
   The Park Service also started giving out T-shirts to children who were properly wearing a life jacket. Rewarding good behavior, the shirt reads, "I was caught by a ranger wearing my life jacket."
   A video public service announcement (PSA) was developed by the Park Service and plays in several movie theaters as well as online. The 29 second pilot may be viewed on Youtube. Pocono Film Company helped the Park Service to create it.
   This was just a pilot PSA: they hope to make another one and distribute it more widely. The newer version will have testimonials from people glad they wore a life jacket.
   They hope to make the PSA available to livery web sites.