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DNR considering proposal to limit swimming at state beaches under certain conditions

flag warning system at beach
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering a proposal to ban swimming at state beaches under certain circumstances.

State beaches that have designated swim areas have a flag system in place. Green indicates calm conditions, yellow indicates light surf and/or currents, and red indicates the highest risk, with waves of at least 3-5 feet and rip currents. 

Officials say the red flag warnings aren't successful, and that water rescues, accidents, and drownings are still far more frequent than they'd like.

Ron Olson is the chief of Parks and Recreation with the DNR. He said the ability to ban swimming would be useful under a variety of conditions, not just when the water gets rough.

"Our primary interest is people that enter the water to engage in swimming, and the focus points are on designated beaches. But it could be if we have contaminated water, (an) oil slick, or something that could create a health problem or a safety problem," he said.

He said swimmers have entered the water even during an active water rescue. Olson also described an incident near Luddington where a boating accident caused large chunks of debris to float into the swim area—another time when the ability to ban swimming would have been useful.

"Our goal is not to give out tickets, but it is there to have an enforceable tool if we need it, and the goal is just make sure everybody enjoys themselves and takes prudent precautions if you’re not a strong swimmer."

Olson said a red flag warning wouldn't necessarily mean that the local official at the beach would make the call to ban swimming—they would make that call based on a variety of factors.

The proposal will be discussed at the Natural Resources Commission's August 12 meeting. The DNR director will decide whether to adopt the order at that point.

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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