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As KCSO updates Kern River death sign, locals worry it will impact tourism

Eight more deaths will be added to the sign
Kern River Deaths Sign Update
Posted at 3:16 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 13:41:55-04

KERN COUNTY, Calif. (KERO) — On Friday morning the Kern County Sheriff's Office will be doing its annual update to the sign posted outside the Kern River Canyon, which tallies the number of people who have died in the river since 1968.

Eight more deaths will be added to the sign on Friday, bringing the total to 315. KCSO says last year was a particularly busy year around the river because people wanted to get out of the house.

With the sign update on the horizon, some are asking if that type of warning is discouraging people from going to the Kern River Valley and nearby Kernville, taking potential revenue from the local economy.

“So, they're like ok we’re getting out of the house, we’re going somewhere, let’s go camping. So, you have a 200% increase in campers,” said Orion Sanders, President of the Kernville Chamber of Commerce.

This summer is expected to be another busy year for the river, but search and rescue officials say that drought conditions might actually help people avoid accidents like slipping, falling, or drowning. The water shortage is causing the river to be extremely low, and have a slower flow.

Kernville's Chamber of Commerce said the town saw no shortage of visitors in 2020, however, those visitors weren't rafting, dining, or staying at lodges. They were mostly hikers and campers setting up around the river. Many were from out of town.

“From Southern California, people driving down from Northern California. Our Kern River is super popular," said Ally Triolo, spokesperson for Kern County.

With restrictions easing, many of those Kernville businesses that felt the economic squeeze of shutdowns are now seeing a return of tourists.

“I can tell you right now, the campgrounds are full. They're booked up," Sanders said.

This means more people visiting the Kern River.

“The easiest way to avoid any incidents in the river is to stay out of the river. Enjoy it from the banks of the river. You can fish. But stay out of the river," said KCSO Sgt. Kevin Kimmel, who is the coordinator for KCSO Search and Rescue. "If you feel you must go in the river, please wear flotation devices certified for the river. And watch your children when they near or around the river or any bodies of water."

WATCH: Tips to stay safe on Kern River.

A look at ways to stay safe on the Kern River this Memorial Day weekend

As activity resumes along the river and KCSO updates the death count at the mouth of the canyon, the Chamber of Commerce says it might not be a bad idea for authorities to put up more warning and life vest signs.

“You’re enjoying the water, getting your feet wet, that’s great, but let's do it safely, wear those life vests, and live to tell about our experiences on the Kern River," said Sanders.