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Undercover Officers Keep Watch on Illinois River Floaters

Lisha Newman
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation

Somebody’s watching while you float down the Illinois River.

Several agencies are helping rangers with the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission patrol the river undercover as people canoe, kayak or raft down it. The main problem they encounter is floaters tying rafts together.

"We've had five drownings, and two of those were caused as a result of people having their rafts tied together, running into logjams, being ejected," said Capt. Bill James. "And we've had numerous other near-drownings."

James said rafts tied together are tougher to control and maneuver around, which causes big problems in narrow spots or where the current picks up speed.

Officers have been floating undercover on weekends throughout the summer, but good luck spotting them.

"This past weekend, one of the rangers and I floated and did a 12-mile float," James said. "There was one gentleman who hollered and told us we were paddling too fast and he was the river cop and was going to write us a ticket. He just thought we were regular floaters."

The officers can write you a ticket.

"We've written quite a few, but we've given a whole lot more warnings just to let people know what they're doing is dangerous," James said.

A barrage of storms in May and June pushed water levels in the Illinois River up several feet.

The undercover officers are also on the lookout for alcohol violations.