Boundary Waters Safer than a Water Park?

     We had just checked into the Kalahari, dropped off our stuff in the hotel room and were on our way to our friend’s room when we were stopped in the hallway.  "Did you hear what just happened?"  It was a woman standing in the hall, talking on the phone in a wet swimsuit.  I wasn’t even sure she was talking to us, but the look in her eyes made me answer, "No, what?"  "Someone just drown in the water park and I was there."  I replied a lame, "Oh, how awful."

     We continued walking down the hall somewhat dazed and confused.  Our friends had heard sirens and saw police vehicles but hadn’t heard about any drowning.  The first thing I did when I got back to our room was check the internet.  Nothing.  Then I turned on the news, nothing there either.  First thing in the morning back to the internet with nothing about a drowning at the Kalahari. 

     The kids were anxious to get down to the water park while I was less than eager.  All I could think about was some young child on the bottom of a swimming pool.  The horror a family would go through to lose their child on a family vacation in a water park of all places.  The word park implying it was safe and secure and made for children to have fun.

     We found ourselves at the water park and the kids were anxious to get wet while I was just anxious.  My stomach had butterflies in it and I was afraid to lose sight of them for a moment.  Both Abby and Josh are good swimmers and have had lessons at school.  They know the buddy system from swimming in the river all summer long but I was still quite panicked.  I became even more panicked when I saw a pool that had been drained of all of it’s water and was roped off.

     This ride is commonly known as the toilet bowl but called the Tazmanian Twister at Kalahari.  It’s a big funnel thing that twirls you around before spitting you out into a deep pool below.  Mike’s been on one at the Kalahari in Ohio and said it is quite the ride.  There the lifeguards at the top of the ride ask if you know how to swim and tell you it is deep and disorienting at the bottom.  They also tell you a lifeguard at the bottom will blow a whistle so you know which way is up.  At this point I believe I would walk back down the steps and head to the lazy river but of course that’s not Mike.

     Mike had a great time in the toilet bowl and enjoyed being pummeled.  He didn’t know which way was up and had to listen for the whistle to get to the surface.  The pool in Ohio and in Wisconsin Dells are clearly marked with the depth, the one in the Dells is 9 feet 6 inches in depth.  At the top of the Toilet Bowl there’s a sign right above the starting tunnel that refers to riders needing to be a strong swimmer and also states the depth of the pool at the bottom.  

     The Toilet Bowl was closed for the day and all I could imagine was a child had died there less than 24 hours before I stood there.  Of course the staff was instructed not to speak about the incident and I understood that.  However, I was able to ask questions in a way which one employee was able to answer without really saying anything.  "Yes there had been an accident, yes it was on the toilet bowl, the person was still alive."  Nothing else was known.

     When I got back to my room I thought my head would explode if I didn’t know more about what had happened.  I checked the internet and then called to speak with a Manager.  Unfortunately I received the Manager’s voice mail and had to leave a message.  The Manager did call me back the next morning to tell me it was a near drowning that involved a 27- year old woman and her boyfriend.

     I couldn’t believe the relief I felt when I found out it was an adult who had almost drown.  What a strange feeling to have, but for some reason I felt better knowing it wasn’t a child who had drown.  Our thoughts drifted to how on earth something like that could happen?  Was there alcohol involved?  Were they breaking the rules?  Just how does something like that happen when there are lifeguards every five feet and at the top and bottom of every slide?

     The word about the near drowning was finally out.  Inspectors were looking at the slide and statements had been released.  People were talking and there was information on the internet.  According to the news both the 27 year old woman and her older boyfriend decided to ride the Toilet Bowl.  Neither of them knew how to swim and must have assumed the water at the end of the ride was shallow enough to stand up in despite the clear depth markings and signs at the top of the water slide.  He went first and got into trouble and had to be rescued from the water by a lifeguard.  The next rider is usually let down when the one in front gets to a certain half -way point and this must have been the case because his girlfriend had also been dumped into the pool and did not surface. 

     There are comments about the incident on the internet, but the papers say, "The boyfriend says he thought a pool would be shallow but was surprised when he couldn’t touch the bottom. Halton also slid in the water although she couldn’t swim.  Witnesses say lifeguards saved the boyfriend first, then pulled Halton from the bottom after about 60 to 90 seconds".

     Cary commented on the accident.  "I was there. It was the toilet bowl thing (someone called it that I cannot remember the real name). The sign does clearly mark "for strong swimmers only". The depth was 9’6". The lifeguard was a lot smaller than the two. I am pretty sure he struggled getting them out, before help arrived. There were so many paramedics there working on her. We left the park for the night there was such an erie feeling. The next day the ride was drained and closed (I would have been surprised if it wasn’t). I know they worked on her for 10mins or more. I did not know she survived until I read this. Scary stuff."

     Scary stuff indeed.  The woman is in the hospital in critical condition as of the latest reports.  People who inquire about a BWCA trip always ask about how safe it is.  We never say it is safe because that can get you in trouble.  There are risks in everything you do some more so than others.  The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness does sound much more dangerous than the Kalahari Indoor Water Park.  The BWCA has water depths over 300 feet deep, real rapids, dangerous waterfalls and 68 degree water temperatures at its warmest.  It’s an outdoor adventure where you’re in the elements without lifeguards and 911.  Kalahari is a water park.  An indoor, climate controlled, highly supervised family entertainment facility.  Could it be the BWCA is safer than a water park? 

     I don’t know if the Boundary Waters is safer then the Kalahari but I do know one thing, I’ll take the BWCA over the Kalahari any day.