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Stanislaus River rafting a ‘blast’ in Ripon

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Stanislaus River rafting a ‘blast’ in Ripon

Ripon Fire Department boat rescue firefighters are pictured with Fremont Fire personnel during a recent drill on the river beneath the six-lane Highway 99 bridge.

Photo Courtesy Ripon Fire Department/

POSTED May 12, 2012 1:13 a.m.

Ripon and the Stanislaus River can be synonymous to having a good time with rafters being drawn to the fast moving water as soon as the weather heats up like it is doing this weekend.

Ripon Fire Department Battalion Chief Marty Cornilsen said there were some 75 to 80 people trying to get onto the river two weeks ago when the temperatures were rising to near summer levels. Life vests for everyone on the water is a must, he stressed, adding their lives may depend on it.

The access point in the Ripon community is at the end of Parallel Avenue which is actually a frontage road adjacent to the northbound lanes of Highway 99. A sign reading, “Ripon Recreation Area, Stanislaus River Parks” is easy to see. A short walk down a paved trail leads rafters, runners and cyclists to the river and the bike bridge that crosses the river 150 feet north of the freeway.

It is actually a rare riparian forest, one of few that remains in the Central Valley, that draws families and athletes to enjoy the lush set of trees, vines and some wildlife as they walk along several trails along the river.

On Friday afternoon a young couple from Central Catholic High School was walking down the trail toward the bridge area. A one-time student at Colony Oak Elementary School, Amanda Mayberry was showing her boyfriend Patrick Bryan where her family spends their traditional annual rafting trip every summer with some of their neighbors.

Amanda said her family has used large truck tire inner tubes as their floats and have had great times they all will remember for a long time to come.

Laughing, she said, “I even got pushed in by my dad once, but it was all in play.”

“It was all very peaceful then on the river, but now you hear about people drowning.”

The Ripon Battalion Chief noted that the river has been running high on its banks at a speed of 2,200 feet per second as of the end of April and the first of May. This week it dropped to about 850 feet per second at a temperature of 64 degrees, he said.

“It’s faster than people think, especially where it narrows down,” he said. “Between us, Escalon and Modesto fire departments we had our hands full with river rescues last year,” the chief added.

Those who get into the water at Highway 99 often exit at the Jack Tone Golf Course where the city has added a parking lot for rafters to park their vehicles that are easily accessed.

The raft float between Escalon and Ripon can take about three hours, but during the summer when the swiftness of the current is down it could take five to six hours to float. From Ripon’s bike bridge, at Highway 99, rafters will enjoy drifting through the wooded areas for nearly two hours. He noted that it can be very deceptive with its bends and turns and caution is the byword.

The chief warned that, because the water level is so high, the debris below the surface is difficult for rafters to see and they can easily get hung up on downed trees and branches. One of the main problems comes when weekenders use swimming pool level floating devices that are easily torn on branches and immediately lose their air.

“Would I have my family float down the river?” Cornilsen asked. “No,” was his immediate response to his own question. “People get stupid when they mix alcohol and heat,” he said and being on the water can complicate things even further.

Zach Bates who has worked for the nearby Barnwood Restaurant for the last four years, said he and three of his friends have rafted for the past several years. They launch out of Knights Ferry quite a ways upstream from Ripon.

They each have their own paddle and take nearly three hours to reach the McHenry Recreation Area on River Road in Escalon.

“We usually bring turkey sandwiches and bags of fruit,” he said.

“We have met a lot of girls on the river, in fact my best friend Robert Shelton, Jr. met his girl on the river from Lodi some three years ago,” he said.

He added that March is the earliest they have ever launched their raft – it’s usually between June and August, he said.

The Ripon Police Department has increased its quad patrols of the river bottom with their officers in an attempt to keep their forested region safe for the public. Ripon’s powered parachute air unit has been instrumental in the past several years in locating lost and marooned rafters and assisting the fire department rescue teams.


209 staff reporter

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