Visitors to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area enjoy ample sunshine and miles of open water but also have a 1-in-307,000 chance of dying, according to a popular outdoor publication that ranks it as America’s deadliest national park, an outdoor publication says.
Outside magazine based its ranking of sites managed by the National Park Service on an analysis of fatalities over the past 10 years, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.
Between 2006 and September 2016, 271 people lost their lives at the 1.5 million-acre park east of Las Vegas. That’s roughly 100 more than at second-place Yosemite National Park and 120 more than third-place Grand Canyon National Park, according to Outside.
Lake Mead spokeswoman Christie Vanover said no one wants to top a list like that, but there are a host of reasons why the recreation area sees as many deaths as it does. Visitors participate in activities that carry some risk, she told the Review-Journal.
“Our park is 87 percent land, but a lot of our visitation is on water. Unfortunately, drownings account for most of the deaths at Lake Mead,” she said.
More than 78 million people visited the recreation area over the past decade, and 99.97 percent of them lived to tell about it. Among those who didn’t, the three most common causes of death were drowning (87), natural causes (58) and motor vehicle crashes (39). Another 21 died of unknown causes, 17 committed suicide and 13 were killed in boating accidents, according to park data.
Vanover said all accidental deaths in the recreation area are examined by the park’s fatality review board. Lake Mead officials also use visitor surveys, public health assessments and outside statistics like those collected by Outside magazine to spot trends.
Adam Kelsey, chief law enforcement ranger for the National Park Service at Lake Mead, said a spike in drownings several years ago prompted stepped-up patrols, new safety measures and more outreach aimed at informing visitors before they hit the water.
When rangers began to see more rescues and drownings along the shoreline, the park set up life jacket loaner stations at Boulder Beach and Cottonwood Cove, two popular swimming spots.
Kelsey said they have lost a lot of life jackets since the program debuted three years ago, but they haven’t lost any swimmers in those areas. “We have not had a shoreline drowning since 2014,” he said.
The loaner program is being expanded to include Katherine Landing and Princess Cove on the Arizona side of Lake Mohave.
The park is also getting ready to launch a Spanish-language public service campaign about the importance of life jackets in hopes of reaching a growing number of Hispanic visitors.
Despite the park’s reputation as a party destination, Vanover said only a small percentage of drownings – and fatalities in general – seem to involve alcohol. Weather, particularly wind, tends to be a much bigger factor.
“It’s really not the party crowd. It’s people who don’t understand the power of the lake,” she said. “Some people think it’s like a swimming pool.”
Kelsey said a lot of Lake Mead’s drowning victims are people who considered themselves “good or very good swimmers.”
Vanover said park officials will do everything they can to make Lake Mead as safe as it can be, but visitors must do their part by wearing their life jackets, driving the speed limit and observing safety rules and posted warnings.
“No park wants to be known as a place where people lose their lives,” she said.