Strong Current, Steep Drop-Off Makes College Creek Dangerous Spot

May 30th, 2012 by Amber Lester



A Google satellite map shows the popular beach and to the right, a sandbar many swimmers try to reach.

For decades, signs posted at College Creek have read: “Danger: Strong Rip Tide, Deep Water, Unsafe for Swimming or Wading.” But as one of the few sandy beaches in James City County, it has long been a favorite of local swimmers.


Three people have drowned in College Creek’s waters in the past 15 years. Jamestown High senior Trevor Times, 18, was swimming to a sandbar Monday afternoon when he disappeared under the water. His body was found 35 feet from shore on Tuesday morning.

The popular beach is located just off the Colonial Parkway, with a nearby pull-off serving as the de facto parking lot. It is within sight of private docks at Kingsmill.

A combination of factors makes College Creek dangerous, said John Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The current is fast, especially where the creek narrows at a bridge on the Colonial Parkway, and the creek is affected by incoming and outgoing tides. “But the biggest factor is the drop-off,” Bull said. The water is 3-4 feet deep at the shoreline, but quickly drops off to 12 feet. “You can be waist high and then suddenly in way over your head.”

Swimmers like to swim to a sandbar across the creek, but Bull and James City County Police Maj. Steve Rubino both said they often underestimate its distance. “It looks like you could doggy paddle to the sandbar, but the water is running fast,” Bull said. “Even the strongest swimmer can miscalculate.”

In 1997, College of William and Mary senior John Parkinson drowned in the strong current while taking a late-night swim just before leaving for fall break. In 2001, a retired Navy pilot named Glenn Bingham rescued a boy caught in the College Creek current about 40 yards offshore, according to a Daily Press story from June 26, 2001. He was later honored for his actions.

Six years later, five-year-old Hannah Davis was found floating about 30 feet offshore. Officers pulled her from the water and attempted resuscitation, but it was too late.

Rip currents are the leading hazard for all beachgoers, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Typically associated with ocean beaches, rip currents form when waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, creating narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore. They typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, or near structures, such as bridges and piers.

Rip currents can be identified by a channel of churning, choppy water; notable difference in the water color; a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward; or breaks in the incoming wave patterns.

Rip currents do not pull people under water; rather, they pull people away from the shore. Drowning deaths often occur when people are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore, according to NWS. If caught in a rip current, the weather service recommends swimmers remain calm to conserve energy and not fight the current. Swimmers should swim out of the current parallel to the shoreline and once out of the current, swim towards the shore.

If swimmers cannot swim out of the current, they should float or calmly tread water until out of the current. If they still cannot get near shore, they should wave their arms and yell for help. Bystanders who see someone in trouble should call 9-1-1 and, if possible, throw the victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Bull recommends bringing a life jacket or floating device (such as a boogie board) on swimming excursions.

The beach has no lifeguards. Although it is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park spokesman James Perry said the Park Service’s boundary is the land. “We don’t own or control any of the water,” he said. “We can’t create any rules against swimming there. In the river itself, the state would have to create a law or regulation.”

The state’s Division of Legislative Services found no record of any bills drafted to specifically address College Creek.

Perry said the signs serve as the best warning of the rough waters, and said he could remember seeing signs at College Creek about 30 years ago. “The signs were posted roughly when people started going recreationally,” he said. “When the Parkway was built in the 1930s, the pull-offs were designed for people taking the parkway as a tour, maybe stretching their legs. It was not designed for heavy recreational use.”

For more information on rip currents, click here or watch this ABC News video about how to swim in rip currents.

22 Responses to Strong Current, Steep Drop-Off Makes College Creek Dangerous Spot

  1. pointe of view

    May 30, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Do click on the more information on rip currents … TO know what to do …

  2. Tragic Loss

    May 30, 2012 at 10:57 am

    This is a tragic loss for the Times Family and the Jamestown High School community. Let us as a community join together to help this family through their struggle through our thoughts and prayers.

  3. Robert Marakos

    May 30, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I think the time has come that the pull to be removed and close that strip of beach. I know that warnings are posed but they are not strong enough. To the family of the most recent victim, I am so sorrry for your loss.

  4. Concerned Parent

    May 30, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I have chills reading this article, as my son is one of the many teenagers who go to College Creek regularly. I’ve never been, and had no idea of the dangers. He and his friends are lifeguards and swimmers on the swim team, and have swam to the sandbar more times than I can count. I’m sure they are all a bit over confident about their abilities, and underestimate the dangers. If this is a known issue, why would we not at the very least put safety flotation devices out there in case of an emergency situation? Closing the beach is extreme. A lifeguard is most ideal. Mid choice, at least have a lifeguard flotation device so that the kids have a chance to survive!!!

  5. TakebacktheBurg

    May 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    To Robert.. I totally disagree. People have been swimming in places such as these for years. While this is a tragic event and my sincerest regrets go out to the family you have to remember two things..
    1) If you look at the number of people that visit that beach in a years time and then the number of accidents that occur, you will see that this isn’t that frequent of an event.
    2) Everyone that swims on that beach walks right by the sign that lists the danger. Everyone is swimming there at their own free will and is conciously making the decision to go ahead even though there is an inherent risk.
    I would say keep this beach open, there are alot of places by far more dangerous people will go if this beach is closed.

  6. Libertarian

    May 30, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I am so sorry for the friends and family affected by this tragic loss – prayers are with you as you traverse the difficult future ahead of you. But PLEASE do not suggest making laws to protect people from themselves. Accidents happen. Some are terribly tragic such as this. But criminializing behavior is not the solution.

  7. Longtime lifeguard

    May 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Too often bad legislation is born from tragedy. Closing the College Creek pull-off and beach area would be a prime example. Please do not let a ground swell of grief take away a community treasure.

    This beach is a good spot for recreation, and yes, swimming (for those who are experienced swimmers.) The three deaths in 15 years are far less than the tragic losses that have occurred in local motel and home swimming pools in the same time period, yet we have not drained the pools.

    Based on my years as a beach lifeguard, I would speculate that there were multiple factors involved, assuming that this young man was a competent swimmer. I have seen otherwise strong and healthy people have, what on land would be a minor, cardiac event while lap swimming and just quietly sink. Fortunately a lifeguard got to them quickly.
    Based on what I have read, I suspect other contributing factors will be found beyond the tide current. Heat exhaustion and dehydration can amplify any latent health issue especially when combined with even modest alcohol consumption.

    That said, if you take your young kids to College Creek and you cannot be at arms reach and 100% attentive to them, get some comfortable life jackets for them to wear. It will keep them safe and allow you to relax and maybe even read a book.

    It is also equally important to understand the nature of the current. It generally runs parallel to the land and may well carry you a long way from your point of entry, but it will not carry you out to sea and away from land. Just ride with it and work your way landward. Some people see that they are rapidly moving away from their group and panic. Panic leads to tragedy. Even an varsity swimmer will run out of gas quickly when fighting a five knot current, so don’t even try.

    Also, there is no such thing as an undertow that will pull a swimmer under. This is a myth based on observations of swimmers becoming so exhausted fighting a current that they lose the ability to stay afloat and sink. They were not pulled down, their muscles just wore out and they sank. Get the notion of “undertow” out of your and your kids’ minds as it will enduce panic if caught in a current. Your first thoughts in this situation need to be “where am I going, and what is the safest direction to swim that is not fighting the current”, not “I’m gonna get sucked under!”

    If the sandbar is your goal, use the buddy system and one of you should take a floatation device of some kind, like a boogey board.

    Jamestown Beach is vastly superior for wading and for less accomplished swimmers and I recommend it for most people. However, College Creek is a good beach as well but requires proper judgement and risk assessment. It should not be closed.

  8. H Waters

    May 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I didn’t know Trevor but Dr. Times was my wife’s surgeon a few months ago. He is a very special physician. Our prayers are with him and his family.

  9. cheapirish

    May 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Given the propensity for the superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park to eliminate any activity that has a potential for risk – fireworks at Yorktown come to mind – it’s surprising he hasn’t barricaded the turnoff here and built up 12 foot walls along the creek. That’s the way the nanny state works in these matters.

  10. charles eugene bush

    May 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    At 75 years old I have many pleasant memories of swimming at this beach with its unique scenic and physical features. Safe in my old age, I often go back to relive in my mind those happy days spent lying on the sandbar and basking in the sun, waiting for the tide to come in and cover everything up.Of course I was a strong swimmer. Don’t close this beach!

  11. shame

    May 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    This is truly a shame and such a sad event. Tevor looked to be an amazing, talented young man. I can’t image what his parents are going through and is close friends. When I was in high school college creek was the place to go. However; since living here all my life I knew that the water was not safe! Even after all the times my parents told me do not go in the water! Hence, the posted signs. Kids, will be kids and they think nothing is going to happen to them. I too, was a lifeguard, avid swimmer, etc and I would not go into the water becuse you could see the whirlpools from shore. Sure, my friends would rag on me but, I valued my life and didn’t want to take a chance. Peer Pressure is awful! People are saying close the beach, don’t close the beach, get a lifeguard, etc. You know honestly, if you have a lifeguard and someone is pulled under that quickly and their are “pockets” a lifeguard isn’t going to do much good. You may end up with two people in trouble. The water is also so merky their that a lifeguard wouldn’t be to see after they went under they would literlly have to it by feel and if these whirlpools, currents, etc are so strong it’s not going to matter. Bottom line if folks want the beach to stay open then don’t get in the water. Respect it. Also, park service made more “parking” for this area. You build it they will come. I have heard that JHS uses college creek for their senior skip day hopefully this year they will use that skip day to reflect on what can happen and the loss of Trevor and not play in the water! Seeing that this too can happen to anyone! I know as a high school student it was hard not to get in the water but you know at somepoint you as person have to be accountable. The loss of this young man is a horrible accident and I pray that is parents/family/friends will find peace wih this. If at all maybe Trevor’s loss will help open the eyes for people not to get in the water(high school students, college, locals, anyone) that it can happen no matter who you are, what you do in life, avid swimmer, or not. So who knows maybe Trevor will help save the lives of many more people to come! I know he will be missed by everyone who knew him but I am sure he is alreadly playing golf like a champ and will do his best to send the message of water safety, etc. To the Times Family may Trevor’s smile remind you of his wonderful life and all that he did accomplish is such a short period of time. To his JHS family may you find peace with all this, look for Trevor’s signs, and spread the word that this can happen to anyone!

  12. pointe of view

    May 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Post a sign of what to do if caught in a rip current… make the sign be noticed !

  13. shame

    May 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    [quote name=”pointe of view”]Post a sign of what to do if caught in a rip current… make the sign be noticed ![/quote]
    Doesn’t matter they are not going to read. The sign that is at college creek is very noticable. You can’t make people read a sign! Besides, if they are caught in the rip current they will not have time to read this sign which is probably when they would notice it!

  14. Bill Tyler

    May 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    People know of the dangers of rip currents. How long are they going to tempt fate. They have a tendency to think that it won’t happen to them. But unfortunately it does. If you continue to do so eventually it may catch up to you. Pray that it doesn’t.

  15. Serial Killer

    May 30, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    This beach is a proven serial killer. The time has arrived for it to be closed.

  16. cathrine Drexel

    May 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm


  17. blutarsky

    May 31, 2012 at 1:06 am

    The idea of a small amount of life preservers kept on the beach is a good one. Clearly there is an issue with the dangerous tide. But clearly this is a fine place to enjoy LIFE too. Seems the small cost would be worth it. Why won’t it happen? Because at some point someone will get hurt and whomever put the preservers there will be seen by the court system as being liable. Sad but true.

  18. Lifeguard

    May 31, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Catherine, sorry you were so offended. Perhaps when you return to your Bible you should review Matthew 5:15 – Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

    I do have a fairly in depth knowledge and experience regarding water safety and beach lifeguarding protocal. I thought it perhaps would be useful to others as it is the little often overlooked details that separate delight from disaster. I recognize that this is an emotionally charged time for you and others, but is precisely in such times that poor decisions are made that we all may later regret. That was the point of my post. Enjoy your nap 😉

    [quote name=”cathrine Drexel”]HEY,”SHAME” and LIFEGUARD” :zzz WAAAAAAYY TOOOO LONG, GET A LIFE.

  19. Fred

    May 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    When I was a teenager we used to go canoeing down the Delaware river. At one particular dangerous set of rapids there was a large sign posted that listed the names and dates of the people who had died there.

    For those who had any sense, that sign was very effective.

  20. remember our youth

    June 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    This tragedy is not the fault of anyone or anything. It was an accident, pure and simple. Everyone who has been fortunate to live to adulthood needs to remember what it was like when we were 18.

    We were fearless and bullet proof!

  21. Bill Tyler

    June 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Tradgedy yes. But you can’t teach common sense. Either you have it or you don’t. Closing the beach is not the answer, teaching people both young and old what to do if they’re ever caught in a rip current is.

  22. Martin

    August 17, 2012 at 3:55 am

    Mark my words post as you wish this one spot will be shut down mark my words on it, sit back and watch. I’ve done my homework and this spot is unsafe and the state knows it.

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