These signs will allow regulators and politicians to say we told you so, but they will not help save lives. South Platte River Safety Signs was a good idea until the politicians/regulators thought they knew more.

clip_image002They are way too busy; they are grouped together and have too much wording on them, and you have to be up close to  understand the message. As designed, they can easily be ignored.

A warning sign must pop, tell you one maybe two important things. You are moving on, and you are not going to stop to read more than that. The information has to enter the brain of the person who sees it, without having to be studied. If you want more information, it should be there, but you have to get the point across the first time.

These signs don’t do that. Unless someone is lost and looking at the trail map, these signs will never be noticed by anyone.

These signs were designed to be located along the South Platte River as it leaves the Chatfield Reservoir and heads north through Arapahoe County, Littleton and eventually Denver. From the dam to the confluence with Cherry Creek (where the down town REI is located) is around 15 miles. A beautiful path follows the trail from the reservoir past the confluence connecting with more than a dozen other trails. Some sections are a little industrial, but overall it is a fun place to ride, run, walk your dog, watch birds and during hot summer, days float down the river.

The river has been designed over the decades to allow for access and use. Dams all have spillways and can be easily navigated by hard-shell kayak or inflatable tube. Three more river side parks have been added, one with two surfing holes just in the past year. On a cool day, you can see stand up paddleboarders, surfers in wetsuits and kayakers playing in the holes at the river. On a hot day, the river is wall to wall people in a short 5-mile section. On the Fourth of July, I counted 300 people surfing, kayaking, inflatable kayaking and 90% of the tubing. Of the tubers, 50% had a cooler floating down the river also. On that day, I counted 18 PFDs.

The original intent of the signs was to give information and warning to the people recreating on the river. I was part of the
South Platte Signage group that created a group of signs to be ready to go early in 2017. The sign above was posted sometime after the Fourth of July and more than 20 days above 90 degrees.

When the South Platte Signage committee was done the designs were handed over to the governing body for this section of the South Platte. That was seven months ago. Someone did not like the original signs and had them done. What they ended up with is busy artwork that you can’t comprehend unless you concentrate. That is not a sign that gets your attention or makes you think.

The original signs were made to stand out. You can understand their purpose from a distance. They work as a standalone product, each little sign meaning one thing or as a grouping as needed.  This one was placed below the access point for the biggest wave on the river. Not really great planning, it needed to be above, or it needs to be where people leave the parking lot wherever they intend to get on the river.

The “Float Sober” sign completely misses the mark. There are other items legal in Colorado besides alcohol and a lot of thing’s people on the river use that are not. Sober refers to alcohol. “Be Smart” covers everything.

I’m I complaining because they changed the work I helped produce. Probably there are some hurt feelings. More importantly as an attorney in the outdoor recreation industry that has litigated sign issues; I see another set of signs that will only be seen by a jury.

As you well know, signs are hard to create, other than to produce a CYA in a courtroom. Although there were a lot of discussion and research into those issues, the most important thing, the signs were developed for was to keep people safe. To make them take 2 seconds to think.

The original design was intended to be a national model and still  is. Anyone can get permission to use the system. The South Platte signs might cost you, no one is sure.

The color in the original system was used to make the warning part of the sign jump, not make the design cute. Cute is for puppies, warning signs have to get someone’s attention.

The design can even be used as a two-color system if  money becomes an issue.

The original work is available to anyone who wants to use it free of charge. If you are interested contact Risa Shimoda, Executive Director of the River Management Society. (301) 585-4677

The otter in the new signs is not wearing a PFD in three of the pictures. In the duck ones, the duck is wearing a PFD. The most important point to get across on any body of water is to wear a PFD.

I was riding my bike when I saw the sign, in fact I had ridden past the sign before I realized what it was and I was constantly looking for the signs. Rangers were probably getting tired of me asking when the river safety signs were going up. When I turned around to go back to read the signs I could not read them or recognize what they were saying standing on the bike path. I walked to the path leading down to the river, (not a put in, just closer to the river.), which was closer to the signs and how people might try to access the river. I finally ended up standing on the grass in front of the sign to see the designs and read the sign.

clip_image008Why am I writing this? Because a lot of people in the parks and  recreation industry face this every day. Professionals are hired to do a job, which always includes the park employees and some politician or bureaucrat mess’s things up.  They might think the sign is  prettier; they think an otter is better than a duck. (Ducks which are found up and down the South Platte and most rivers in North America.)

Worse, their changes add months to the final project which put people at risk.

Is the otter that much better of a symbol to save lives that a lot of people got to miss it, and based on where this sign is, continue to miss it?

Show this to the politician/manager/bureaucrat getting on your way, or send me their contact info, and I’ll send it to them so you don’t have to put your head on the chopping block. (Remember an attorney-client privilege.

Let the experts, the employees you employ to run our parks, our open spaces, our state parks, our national forests, and our national monuments and parks do what they have been educated in and trained to do. Run the parks, you run the country…..or at least your little fiefdom and stay out of the parks, unless you are there to enjoy the day.

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