Few things in the natural world are as awe-inspiring as the sight of water pouring off the side of a high stone ledge and clamoring into a rocky pool beneath. Thanks to Transylvania County’s unique geography and climate, the county is home to more than 250 named waterfalls, the highest concentration in the United States.
“From the awesome 411-foot drop of Whitewater Falls (the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains), to the iconic beauty of Looking Glass Falls, you are invited to explore a world that overflows with natural beauty,” said Bobby Cooper, director of Transylvania County’s Emergency Medical Services.
Cooper, however, knows that along with their beauty waterfalls can be dangerous and deadly, and he asks all visitors to use special care around them. Last summer, there were six reported deaths at waterfalls in Transylvania County. Dave Casey, head ranger for the Pisgah District of Pisgah National Forest, also calls for caution around waterfalls.
“We’re blessed to have several hundred waterfalls here but, enjoy from a safe place,” Casey said. “Never get near the edge of the waterfall or cross the creek above a waterfall because you could easily be swept over the edge from the current of the water and from stepping on slick rocks. There have been numerous deaths each year associated with waterfalls, so don’t become one of them. Also, be aware that trees and rocks can be swept over waterfalls and land in the pools below, so be aware of these dangers as well.”
Being generally careful around all waterways is advised, said Kevin Shook, the county’s emergency communications’ director.
“As summer approaches, many citizens will want to cool off in the many rivers and streams located throughout the county,” he said. “We don’t discourage this activity, but…water is sometimes deceiving, and there may be a current below the surface that could cause you problems. Know the areas above and below where you want to enjoy the streams or waterways. You want to make sure that there are no dangerous waterfalls immediately below the area you are having your activities in case you or a member of your group slips on the wet rocks and loses their balance. The rivers and streams can be unforgiving at times if not treated with respect. We want everyone to have a fun summer but a safe one.”
Waterfall Safety Tips:
•Stay on developed trails and don’t stray from observation decks and platforms. •Stay out of restricted areas.
•Stay back from the edge — the top of the falls is the most dangerous.
•Do not climb on rocks near waterfalls.
•Wear stable shoes.
•Watch your footing — dry rocks can be just as slippery as wet ones, especially if they are covered in algae. •Don’t jump or dive off waterfalls — submerged rocks, trees or debris could be immediately below the surface of the water.
•Don’t swim in waterfall pools.
•Watch children carefully.
•Always carry a map of the area.
•Use extreme caution when walking along riverbanks
•If you find yourself accidentally swimming in fast-moving water, do not try to stand up. Most drowning incidents result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge or between boulders. The force of the water will push you over and hold you under.