Using the Smith River for paddling, fishing and other forms of recreation and sport will now be safer following a $10,000 Pick Up the Pace! grant award from The Harvest Foundation to the County of Henry Department of Public Safety.

Development of inputs and other amenities along the Smith River over the past decade has resulted in a dramatic increase in use of the river by residents and visitors, said Matthew Tatum, director of the County of Henry Department of Public Safety. Grant funding from The Harvest Foundation will be used to provide basic water safety training and basic water rescue equipment for first responders on the river.

“The Harvest Foundation has supported the development of our rivers and trails for over a decade, not only as beautiful recreational assets of our community but as economic drivers through increased tourism,” said Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation. “We believe the increased use of the Smith River is another sign of the continued growth of our community, and we are proud to partner with Henry County Public Safety on the Swiftwater Response Safety Training project to better equip and prepare our first responders should a river emergency arise.”

Tatum said with the increase in use on the river, the number of river-related incidents also has increased proportionally. Fortunately, he said, most of the incidents have been minor, and have only required minimal assistance by volunteer rescue squads and local outfitters.

“The knowledge that our local responders are adequately trained and prepared for river-related incidents will enhance the marketing resources in our region,” Tatum said. “The grant will enable Henry County to train and equip the first responders for necessary river-incident responses. The Smith River is a real gem for our community, and this grant will aid in ensuring the safety of the river.”

The Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) will partner with Henry County’s Department of Public Safety on the Basic River-Related Incident Response program. Brian Williams, DRBA program manager and owner of Smith River Outfitters, said even with the education provided to new users of the river, incidents can still occur.

“We appreciate the investment Henry County Public Safety has made in working to better respond to the increased number of river-related incidents and the diligence to improve the safety of our residents and visitors involved in these activities,” Williams said. “The Smith River provides tourism and economic development to our community, and an efficient Swiftwater rescue response is imperative to providing a safe and enjoyable experience for all river visitors.”