LANSING, Mich. — Michigan conservation officers and park rangers will soon have the authority to keep swimmers out of the water when conditions are deemed dangerous on state beaches.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger formally announced his intent to sign a land-use order that would restrict entry into Lake Michigan at DNR operated beaches under the following conditions:
As long as board leashes are used, surfers and other water sport enthusiasts would be exempt from the closures regarding wave heights.
The announcement came Thursday morning during the monthly Natural Resources Commission meeting.
Two swimmers drowned this summer at state park beaches in West Michigan. Both occurred during red flag conditions, with waves below 8 feet in height. Victims included:
Many, but not all, Michigan state park beaches rely on beach warning flags to alert swimmers of potentially dangerous swimming conditions. Red flags designate when swimmers should stay out of the water.
On the east side of the state, an 8-year-old girl drowned on July 31, 2021, while swimming in Lake Huron at Tawas Point State Park.
Dave Benjamin, the executive director and co-founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue project, believed the order wouldn’t make much of a difference curbing drownings if the DNR waits until wave heights reach 8 feet to restrict swimming.
“The majority of dangerous currents, drownings happening on the great lakes is moderate wave activity of 2 to 5 feet, which is yellow flag conditions leading into red flag conditions," Benjamin said.
A water safety expert, Benjamin helps to lead water safety presentations and trainings across the Great Lakes region. He advocated for the return of a lifeguard program on DNR operated beaches.
"The beach flag system in Michigan is a failed system," Benjamin said. "It's a tool for lifeguards to use, and not a replacement for lifeguards."
Once formally signed, the order will officially go into effect on or after May 1, 2022.
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