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Swimmer Found Dead in Bolton Potholes

Raging river between steep rock cliffs with two rescue personnel in orange clothing and rope ladder.
Rescuers at the Bolton Potholes retrieved the body of 21-year-old Cody Surprise this week. Photo courtesy of the Bolton Fire Department.
BOLTON — Rescuers found a 21-year-old Burlington resident dead about two hours after the person jumped into a Bolton swimming hole on Saturday, May 21 at around 12:30 p.m., a police report states. Police responded to a 9-1-1 call to the report of a swimmer who had gone underwater but had not resurfaced at the Bolton Potholes near the Bolton Valley Access Road. 

By 2:30 p.m. responders located and recovered the swimmer, who they identified as Cody Surprise. 

Surprise was subsequently pronounced dead by Richmond Rescue. Witnesses said Surprise had jumped off a rock ledge into a pool of water where the river current was very strong and rapidly flowing. Signs were posted at the trail leading to the swimming hole warning of strong currents and unsafe swimming conditions.

 Members of the Bolton Fire Department, the Richmond Fire Department, Richmond Rescue, Colchester Technical Rescue, and Stowe Mountain Rescue responded to the scene to assist in the search for the missing swimmer. 

Steve Libby, executive director of the Vermont River Conservancy released a statement on the death of Cody Surprise. “Vermont River Conservancy is extremely saddened by the tragic death of Cody Surprise, and our hearts go out to the young man’s family and friends. We are grateful to all who responded on the scene including Richmond Rescue, Colchester Technical Rescue Team, Bolton Fire Department, and Stowe Mountain Rescue, as well as area neighbors,” Libby wrote.

The statement added how Bolton Potholes have been loved by generations of swimmers, “but its turbulent waters can also be extremely dangerous. This is especially true when water temperatures are cold and when water levels are high, as was the case this past weekend. This is the sixth known death at Bolton Potholes, and the first since 2011. All known drownings have been in the ‘Eagle’s Eye’ pool, where swift currents aerate the surface causing foamy, bubbly water and challenge even the strongest swimmers.”

The Vermont River Conservancy helped conserve Bolton Potholes in December 2018, which preserves public access to this privately owned land. Additionally, the nonprofit organization has tried to improve ways to alert visitors to the dangers by putting up signs and through on-site education. 

Libby’s statement offers these additional safety tips: Avoid swimming 24-hours after a heavy rain; look around for dangerous rocks or other structures/outcroppings that could pose a risk; and don’t get in if the current appears to be strong and frothy. And when the water is cold, hypothermia can set in quickly, making it impossible for a swimmer to control muscles as a result of the drop in core body temperatures.