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Rosemount teen dies in Duluth river

A day of hiking and rock climbing ended tragically Wednesday when members of a church group waded into the Temperance River to cool off and wash up.

Andrea Evans, 17, of Rosemount, and youth counselor Julie Steiskal, 29, were in chest-deep water about 8:45 p.m. when the current swept them into the river's gorge and over its falls. Their bodies were recovered in the pool just upstream of Minnesota Highway 61 about 9:15 p.m.

"The river currents are unpredictable and people can get in trouble pretty easily," Temperance River State Park Manager Phillip Leversedge said. "There are some pretty strong currents in the river, especially where the river enters the gorge."

Steiskal and Evans were among a group of eight campers -- three adults and five children and teenagers -- affiliated with the Church of the Open Door of Maple Grove, that spent Wednesday hiking and rock climbing at Carlton Peak. On their way back to the Finland campground where they were staying they stopped near Overlook 7 in Temperance River State Park to clean up in the river. They entered just upstream of the gorge.

The water there is mostly knee-deep, Cook County Sheriff Mark R. Falk said. Steiskal and Evans wanted to wash their hair, and Steiskal moved into deeper water closer to where the current is stronger.

"Andrea joined her and slipped," Falk said. "Julie grabbed Andrea and was trying to hang onto her while at the same time hang on to the rock behind her. The current was just too strong and swept them both down the river and into the gorge."

The quarter- to half-mile-long gorge is narrow, deep and twisted, containing several waterfalls and potholes. Air is mixed with the churning, tumbling water, making it harder to stay afloat.

The Temperance River is a popular wayside rest for tourists, who walk the trails to take in the rushing rapids and swollen waterfalls. A series of trails winds along the river on both sides of the highway.

The river widens out about a half-mile upstream, where the women were cleaning up, though the current still is swift. Just downstream of observation point No. 7, the river begins its swift descent toward Lake Superior, dropping 240 feet as it rushes through a pair of narrow gorges.

After the women disappeared, hikers rushed downstream and found a Cook County Sheriff's deputy in the parking lot along Highway 61. He immediately radioed for help and then joined others at the pool below the gorge's final waterfall.

"One at a time the girls came over that last waterfall and were facedown in the pool," Falk said.

Efforts to revive Steiskal and Evans were unsuccessful, and they were pronounced dead at the scene.

"It's very tragic," Falk said. "With this spring and early summer -- having a lot of rain -- rivers are above average levels for this time of year. You need to be very, very careful. Sometime the current is a lot stronger than it appears."

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Boat and Water Safety Specialist Tim Smalley recommends that people stay out of rivers and other areas where there are currents, especially now when many streams and rivers are flowing fast because of recent rain.

"I don't know how high the Temperance is flowing, but I assume it's still coming down pretty good," he said.

A group of friends from the Twin Cities area were spending Thursday afternoon leaping off the cliffs near the end of the first, longer gorge and plunging into a small, deep pool at the bottom.

The group had been camping at the Temperance River Campground on Wednesday night, and Nik Prenevost, 18, of Minnetonka said they heard sirens blaring about 9 p.m.

The friends had seen a small group of young people jumping from the cliffs on Wednesday afternoon, so they decided to give it a try on Thursday. They were keeping an eye on the current, said Cam Olson, 18, of Chanhassen.

"Safety is our No. 1 thought," Olson said.

A sign advising that "swimming is not recommended" is posted along a trail on the lake side of the Temperance River.

The river has been the site of at least four other fatal accidents over the past dozen years.

In June 2001, a 22-year-old Finland man died from head injuries after falling into the river when he slipped while attempting to climb down a steep rock face.

In August 2000, a 50-year-old Arbor Vitae, Wis., man died after diving into the river to save his 8-year-old son, who was being swept into Lake Superior. The father pushed his son closer to shore, where others pulled him ashore.

In July 1999, a 48-year-old Remer man drowned after he rescued his 12-year-old daughter from the river when she became trapped in the current. After saving his daughter, the man sank. Searchers recovered his body three days later.

And in August 1996, a 14-year-old Crystal, Minn., boy drowned after he dove into the river just below a waterfall near Highway 61 while swimming with friends.

STEVE KUCHERA can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5503 or by e-mail at skuchera@duluth Staff writer Janna Goerdt contributed to this report.