KALISPELL – The death of a man who drowned Monday in the Smith River has officials warning of dangerous water conditions this Memorial Day weekend.
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer and as many prepare to take to the waters to celebrate Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials are issuing a warning to be very careful right now.
"We’ve had a lot of snowmelt in recent weeks and that has led to rapid rises in our rivers and streams and even our lakes are very cold. There is a lot of debris in the water right now, and the rivers especially are moving very rapidly and that can create dangerous conditions," said FWP spokesman Dillon Tabish.
A Billings man drowned Monday while boating the Smith River after his boat was swamped by a rock. He was not wearing a life jacket, something Tabish says it could have saved his life.
"If you’re going to be out on the water we urge people to be safe, wear life jackets, we really encourage most rivers to just stay away from them right now," Tabish said. "The water is very rapid and it’s not safe conditions to be out there with your family."
Tabish says the death is an example that illustrates just how dangerous conditions are on the water right now.
"Any river, even if it seems like it might be calm and safe could have a lot of hazards involved with it, whether it’s debris, cold temperatures, rapids, undercurrents," Tabish said.
"If anyone is going to be on the water especially rivers please be safe, please be careful and maybe save your river trip for another day when the conditions are a little more safe," he added.
Due to the dangerous conditions, some areas in the state are closed to water-based recreation. Those areas will be marked by signs.
Another important reminder for Memorial Day weekend — there are new rules aimed at preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. All watercraft must be inspected and have a permit prior to launching.