Editorial: Rock on / Dimple Rock is left alone to be dangerous

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Despite its baby-face name, there is nothing cute or juvenile about Dimple Rock on the Youghiogheny River. As whitewater rafters and kayakers well know, this tank-sized piece of sandstone is a place of difficulty, danger and sometimes tragedy. Of the 18 boating deaths on the lower Yough in the past 30 years, nine occurred at Dimple Rock Rapid or nearby.

If Dimple Rock were a hazard intruding on a highway, it would have been obliterated by now in the name of safety. But Dimple Rock is a natural obstacle in a wild river, which people venture on for a taste of adventure. Thanks to a decision by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the experience won't become G-rated.

After three deaths in 2000 and one in 2003, Fayette County Coroner Phillip E. Reilly called upon the state to consider solutions to the danger posed by Dimple Rock. That challenge has been met. In an extensive review of six options, which included removing the rock or building a collar around it, a DCNR report released last week opted for leaving the rock alone.

This is not the same as doing nothing. The state is committed to increasing the focus on safety education and providing more warnings that may lead people to choose the alternative of walking around the rapid. In other words, the rock will remain intact but, with luck and good management, people's attitudes may be altered.

To be sure, many people will still take their chances and some -- hopefully, very few -- may pay the ultimate price.

That is no reassurance to those who must deal with any tragedy, including the rangers who oversee operations at Ohiopyle State Park and concerned public servants such as Dr. Reilly. Nor is it likely that future victims' families will be consoled to learn that the rock remained unaltered in order to keep the river pure.

Yet this is the logical decision, one more persuasive for having been arrived at after a lot of study. To change the rock in any way could invoke the law of unintended consequences, making the river more dangerous. Moreover, as perilous as the swirling currents are at that spot, the death toll isn't so startling when measured against the more than 2 million rafters who have navigated the river since the state park opened in 1970.

In our erstwhile home of the brave, there's an urge to flatten every bump, to put a pillow around every tree and to generally make life as risk-free as possible. That Dimple Rock will be left alone, that a wild river will be allowed its bit of wildness, is a reassuring sign that America hasn't entirely lost its daring.



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