Michigan DNR proposal could ban swimming at state beaches during dangerous conditions

The proposal is focused on the state’s Lake Michigan beaches downstate with designated swimming areas and flag warning systems.
DNR could make swimming illegal during dangerous weather
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Mich. (WLUC) - A new proposal from the director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would limit swimming in certain conditions.

The proposal is focused on the state’s Lake Michigan beaches in the Lower Peninsula that have designated swimming areas and flag warning systems. Swimming would be banned there when red flags are flying.

“Red flags mean that waves are in excess of three feet and the wind speeds have escalated,” explained Ron Olson, Parks and Recreation Chief for the DNR.

Although swimming is popular at U.P. state parks on the Great Lakes—such as McClain and J.W. Wells—there are no state designated swim areas. However, the proposal would still allow the DNR to stop people from entering the water from certain state lands if conditions are dangerous, a water rescue is taking place, harmful bacteria is present, or other issues are impacting water safety.

Often, the people who jump into action to save struggling swimmers are surfers. The DNR’s policy would make an exception for them.

“They see someone struggling because they’re in a rip current or structural current, they get them on their board, bring them to shore, and then they go back to surfing,” said Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. “Surfers depend on the waves to participate in our activities. In addition to that, of the 994 Great Lakes drownings since 2010, zero have been surfers.”

If the order goes into effect, a violation could result in a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

“The goal here isn’t to write a bunch of tickets,” Olson said. “Our goal is to have people stay safe.”

The State Natural Resources Commission is scheduled to take up the proposal at its meeting on August 12. The DNR director will have the final say on whether the order is finalized.

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