It was a balmy Saturday in mid-February and Dex Allen was making rounds at Beasley Flats, an access point on the Verde River just downstream from Camp Verde. He chatted with groups of boaters as they prepared to push off into the river, including one that caught his attention. The majority of the bunch, he found out, had no boating experience and some were wearing only shorts and unzipped life jackets, despite water temperatures of 55 degrees — cold enough that hypothermia is a risk without the right gear.
Not long after the boaters set off, two of Allen’s Forest Service colleagues went down to observe that group and others run Verde Falls, a class IV rapid where the water laces through full grown trees and around a scramble of boulders, then plunges between banks of rough basalt rock.
The employees reported seeing boats had turned upside down and people running or swimming after boats after being thrown out mid-rapid. Helmets and gear bags got ripped loose as well and were floating downstream.
The scene represented a longtime worry for Allen, a 17-year Forest Service veteran who oversees the Verde River and Fossil Creek.
Over and over, Allen said he sees novice boaters who set off down the river south of Camp Verde without proper equipment, adequate experience and a good idea of what they’re getting themselves into.
Many are people…