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Safety in the Lake, by Constantine Dillon, Superintendent, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Each year, millions of visitors come to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to
hike, camp, bicycle, picnic, visit historic buildings and enjoy the beach.
Lake Michigan can be a wonderful place to swim and surf, but it can also be
a dangerous place. The National Park Service reminds visitors to use care
when swimming in the lake. All national parks have hazards. We do our best
to inform the public of what they need to do to protect themselves, but we
cannot make the park free of hazards.
Lifeguarded beaches are available most summer days at the national
lakeshore’s West Beach and at Indiana Dunes State Park. If visitors wish to
swim at a lifeguarded beach we recommend these locations. However,
lifeguards are not a substitute for personal safety. Lifeguards cannot be
on every section of the national lakeshore’s 15 miles of beach, every hour
of the day, every day of the year. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is open
every day, so it is inevitable that the majority of visitors will be on the
beach when no lifeguards are on duty. Visitors should be alert to water
conditions and make prudent decisions based upon lake conditions, weather,
and personal abilities.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has an unlimited number of entry
locations. The public can enter from any point along the national
lakeshore’s shoreline from Gary to Michigan City. Warnings, signs, or
employees cannot be everywhere and there is no way to open and close all of
these entry points. This is why the National Park Service works to give the
public information that they can use to make good safety decisions when
there are no park employees, signs, or warnings in their area.
Parents and adults should watch children at all times while on the beach.
When in the water, keep children in sight and within arm’s length at all
times. Many drownings are of children who were unattended, who were far
from adults, or who simply stepped off a sandbar and could not swim.
Contrary to popular belief, most drownings in the park are not due to rip
currents. Of the 18 drownings in the park since 1995, only one is
attributed to a rip current. Focusing on rip currents as a primary safety
hazard sends the wrong message - it can imply that if there are no rip
currents than the beach is safe. This is not the case: drownings can and do
occur under all lake conditions. We want the public to be aware of rip
currents, but not to have a false sense of security that the lake is only
dangerous during rip currents.
When waves are present, the danger to poor swimmers and children is
increased. Our red and black signs at various locations are clear: do not
enter the water when waves are breaking. Waves make swimming difficult, may
cause disorientation, can knock waders off their feet, and can obscure the
visibility of people who are under water. Never swim alone.
Weather websites, local radio and TV stations, and newspapers convey when
there is likely to be high waves or rip currents. Generally, this is any
time there is a north wind. If the water is brown – don’t go in. Brown
water obscures swimmers and may indicate poor water quality that could lead
to illness. The National Park Service posts water quality readings weekly
on the park website and sends this information to the news media from
Memorial Day through Labor Day.
In an emergency, call 1-800-PARKTIP (800-727-5847) and tell the dispatcher
where you are. Cell phone 911 calls may go different places. 1-800-PARKTIP
will reach the National Park Service emergency center which operates 24/7.
Nationwide, drowning is the leading cause of death in national parks. The
beauty of the lakes, rivers, and oceans of our national parks are part of
their attraction. We want visitors to continue to enjoy these natural
assets and to go home safely after their visit. Make sure that the memories
of your visit are good ones by following the guidelines for water safety.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is part of the National Park Service. More
than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 397 national
parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local
history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at
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