To celebrate the end of summer vacation, Jerilyn Owens, her husband, Chase Owens, and their five children floated the Big Springs waterway down to Mack’s Inn in Island park.
They did so on Saturday with family friends Kim and Travis Ashcraft and Jerilyn Owens’ parents, Pam and Randy Berkheimer.
“We try to go floating at least once a year. This is the second time we’ve done this float,” Jerilyn Owens said.
Around 2:45 p.m. Saturday, the families dipped their kayaks into Big Springs and paddled toward Mack’s Inn. Two hours later, the sky darkened, and the heavens opened, dumping heavy rains onto the kayakers just as they got out of the waterway.
“It was extremely heavy rain. It was coming down hard,” Owens said.
The Fremont Emergency Management’s Facebook page reported that parts of Fremont County received up to 3.25 inches of rain. It also stated that the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office received numerous 911 calls from floaters stranded at Big Springs.
“A total of 15 people were rescued and treated for exposure,” said Fremont Emergency Management on its Facebook page.
After getting out of the water, Owens, her dad and Travis Ashcraft raced to their cars and then quickly drove to retrieve their family members.
“I was worried about them getting pounded on by the rain while we were getting the vehicles,” Owens said.
While waiting, Owens’ and Ashcraft’s families stood underneath the overhang of an outdoor restroom.
“They were all huddled up,” she said. “It was getting cold. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees from where we started.”
Fremont Emergency Management reported that once the storm hit, the temperature dropped from 86 to 50 degrees.
Jerilyn Owens likened the storm to a blizzard’s whiteout except that instead of snow, it involved rain.
“Our windshield wipers were going so fast that we could hardly see,” she said.
On the way back to their Chester home, Owens noticed cars traveling slower than normal.
“There were several spots along the drive where people were going 35 to 45 mph. Everyone was going slow because of the low visibility,” she said.
Owens also noticed some cars pulled over to the side of U.S. Highway 20.
“As we were driving down the Ashton Hill, a stream was coming down the side of the highway,” she said. “The water was running down the side pretty quickly. And when we got to the bottom of the Ashton Hill, there were several cars pulled over on the side of the highway waiting for the storm to let up.”
Owens said she was surprised at how quickly the weather turned bad. Prior to their trip, Owens had checked the weather report where it said the storm would start raining around 6 p.m.
“When we saw the storm coming, we started paddling. We saw the clouds rolling in around 4,” she said.
As they paddled, the families could hear the thunder and see the lightning, Owens said.
“The lightning strikes were getting close to us while we were in the water,” she said. “Seeing lightning on the water is always scary.”
Prior to their adventure, Owens reminded her children about the importance of wearing life jackets.
“They said, ‘Why do we need to wear life jackets? We’re good swimmers,’” Owens said. “I told them, ‘You never know if the weather will change really fast, or if there’s fast flooding.’ They rolled their eyes at me.”
The Owens children are now singing a different tune.
“After how fast the storm came, and how much rain fell in such a short amount of time, it was a little bit of a lesson for them,” Owens said.
No one suffered injury except for being sore from “trying to paddle so fast to get out of the water.”
Owens told her children that Saturday’s adventure would go down in the family’s history of exciting summer events.
“It’s a floating trip my kids won’t ever forget. It was a little more exciting than what we’re used to,” she said.