Sanford honors park ranger for river rescue

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By Stephen Guilfoyle

Al James. Landsford Canal State Park superintendent, was honored by Gov. Mark Sanford in last week’s State of the State address. Sanford held him up as an example for all state employees as he began the annual address.

“First, I’d like to recognize a state worker who is representative of so many who do their work without recognition,” Sanford said. “I’m a frequent critic of South Carolina government’s growth and structure, but Al James – a park ranger for Parks, Recreation and Tourism – is an example of many who go beyond the call of duty in their work.”

Sanford praised James for helping save someone’s life.

“In his case, this past summer, he rescued kayakers on the Catawba River and he put himself in harm’s way to do so,” Sanford said.

He asked James to stand up and be recognized.

A Chester County resident who watched the broadcast said James, who was in uniform, holding his hat down and appeared a little sheepish, deserved to be recognized.

The incident happened in August. The river was choppy that day.

A series of heavy storms had dumped a lot of water upstream. The Catawba, at low levels, like it has been through much of the drought, can be a gentle river.

The river normally runs about 2,000 cubic feet per second. The Lake Wylie Dam, when it is generating, can drop a lot more water and run 12,000 cubic feet per second. But that day, the storm had the river running 18,000 cubic feet per second, nine times faster than normal.

Three kayakers went out. One got stuck in a tree mid-river. His friends couldn’t turn around to get him. They missed a downstream landing themselves, but stopped, found a trail and walked back up to alert the ranger.

James was off duty, but he got in a canoe with all his rescue park operations.

The stretch of the Catawba near the park is gentle. The rapids are just beyond that stretch.

“It can go up and go up significantly,” he said.

The kayaker was in the tree and his boat was jammed in tight. James was able to get him in the canoe and then to shore.

They walked back to the ranger station. James said they have several similar incidents each year.

“That’s why we’re here,” he added. “We train for this.”

James said he appreciated the honor. He knew he was going to Columbia, but didn’t know he would be sitting next to First Lady Jenny Sanford.

That was more intimidating than the rescue, he said.

“That was an honor in itself,” he said. “She’s a great lady.”