Pennsylvania Parks Going Without Life Guards at Beaches in 2008

February 12, 2008

Swimming at state park beaches soon will be at your own risk.

Starting this summer, the Bureau of State Parks is getting rid of lifeguards at all beaches except at Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie. The move will save about $800,000, eliminate the challenge of hiring enough life guards and allow beaches to be open longer, state officials said.

Lifeguards will remain on duty at park swimming pools.

The state has been moving toward getting rid of beach guards since 1998, when it started open swims at some beaches. Several parks did away with life guards the next year, mostly because they couldn’t hire enough.

By last year, 23 state parks had unguarded beaches. Now, another 15 beaches will be unguarded this summer.

“Many of our visitors have been interested in accepting the additional responsibility that comes with swimming at an unguarded beach,” said Roger Fickes, the bureau’s director.

But others think the idea is dangerous.

Donald Coffey of Harrisburg, who visits Black Moshannon State Park with his family, called getting rid of lifeguards “insane.” Coffey said he has watched lifeguards doing everything from helping people with injuries to rescuing two woman and a child after their canoe capsized.

Chris Bruster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, was also leery. He said unguarded beaches usually make swimming more risky; there were 21 drownings at unguarded beaches compared to eight at guarded beaches last year, according to the association.

Most of the association’s members, however, guard ocean beaches, where rip tides present the biggest risk. Pennsylvania park officials said they were keeping lifeguards at Presque Isle State Park for that reason — because Lake Erie has currents more like an ocean.

Open-swim policies also are a national trend that may encourage better behavior, according to state officials.

“People are more individually responsible” at open-swim areas, said Christina Novak, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Information from: The Patriot-News,

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