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Visiting Great Falls (Gone Wrong)

By Albert Gao


To many, Great Falls Park is a natural landscape teaming in flora and fauna. To others, the prospect of hiking its dynamic trails brings great excitement. But above all, the vast Potomac River that transforms into a waterfall is the centerpiece of Great Falls. However, throughout the years, a handful of visitors have also met their fates here.

Since 2001, there have been at least 27 deaths at Great Falls and after examining specific portions of the rivers, it becomes clear that there are a variety of dangers lurking at Great Falls.

Without a doubt, the waterfalls are fast. But what contributes to the perils posed? Caves and sieves below the surface can trap humans, causing them to drown. In addition, when water falls, it forms a current at the bottom of the river. Where the waterfall and river meets, a vortex is formed, trapping anything or anyone unlucky to be caught in it.

Aside from the vortexes of the main falls, danger can also be found near the water. Due to currents from the side of a gorge feeding into the main river, one slip could mean being dragged from the shore into the center of the river. Sometimes, rainwater from long distances away can take days to reach the Great Falls, at which small channels can be flooded instantly, washing people into the river.

For white water kayakers, the rapids are unforgiving. Some sections drop more than 55 feet in less than a third of a mile, causing at least two kayakers to have died.

In general, it would be wise to avoid contact with the waters at the Great Falls, no matter how tranquil they may look. The beauty of Great Falls is best observed from a distance. Don’t let this discourage you from going into nature, but remember that your safety comes first.

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