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Missing kayaker a cautionary tale for water users 

Kayaking on Jackson Lake. | Courtesy NPS.gov

JACKSON (WNE) — Grand Teton National Park rangers continue to search for a kayaker who disappeared more than two weeks ago when conditions became choppy on Jackson Lake.

The incident underlines the need for caution when recreating on waterways, whether on lakes or on the Snake River.

“Aside from motor vehicle crashes, drowning is the second leading cause of unattended deaths in national parks,” said Cynthia Hernandez, a National Park Service spokesperson.

Wesley Dopkins, 43, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was last seen June 15.

Search efforts are mainly water based, Chief Ranger Erika Jostad said, as rangers use patrol vessels to comb the water, islands and surrounding shore lines.

Dopkins and a friend departed Colter Bay Marina around 2 p.m. June 15. They were heading toward Waterfalls Canyon on the west shore of the lake when 25 mph winds picked up. As that happened, the pair became separated.

Whether Dopkins reached the canyon on the far side of Jackson Lake is unknown. His partner turned around mid-lake and reported Dopkins missing at Leeks Marina to the north.

The kayakers brought only one personal floatation device, Jostad said, which Dopkins offered to his partner. Dopkins felt he was the stronger kayaker.

Some of Dopkins’ belongings — an Oru folding kayak, paddle and dry bag — were located the evening of June 15, six hours after he and his friend were separated. Jostad said it looked like the items had washed ashore.

The incident paints a cautionary tale for being prepared on waterways, officials say. The key message? Wear a life jacket.

In past years, revelry on the Snake River south of the park has led to a number of fatalities for people who were not wearing a life vest. 



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