Lifeguarded beaches along Lake Michigan are hit-or-miss

2012-07-14T17:30:00Z 2012-07-16T00:34:04Z Lifeguarded beaches along Lake Michigan are hit-or-missJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

Lake Michigan's waters can be wicked. Calm one moment and deadly the next.

Add that to this summer's high temperatures and you have, as one official said last week after Northwest Indiana's second drowning of the season, a "recipe for drowning."

Gene Davis, conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said while there have not been more drownings in Lake Michigan so far this summer, "this year is a perfect situation for these to increase."

The two drownings so far this summer happened on unguarded beaches, just off the shores of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Leonel Dominguez, 31, of New York City, drowned June 18 when his raft capsized just east of Lake View Beach in Beverly Shores, and Corey McFry, 15, drowned July 8 when waves swept him under the lake at Portage Lakefront Park and Riverwalk.

Beaches protected by lifeguards along Lake Michigan are hit and miss.

While Whihala Beach Park in Whiting and Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton are guarded, only some beaches within the jurisdiction of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the City of Gary's Parks Department have lifeguards on duty.

"At West Beach, we offer visitors the services of lifeguards and recommend that if visitors prefer a lifeguarded beach that they go to West Beach or Indiana Dunes State Park," said Bruce Rowe, spokesman for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

He added it is rare that the parking lots at these two sites are full. West Beach is located off County Line Road on the western edge of Portage.

Rowe said in the 1980s and very early 1990s, lifeguard services were offered at some beaches in the eastern portion of the national lakeshore.

"When these became financially unsustainable, we consolidated our lifeguard services at West Beach," he said.

Rowe said the National Park Service works to inform the public of safety considerations by providing information through its website, through news releases and with signs at every beach access point to help visitors make informed decisions. The National Weather Service also posts warnings about rip currents.

Swimmers who choose to swim at an unguarded beach are doing so at their own risk. Rowe said people need to educate themselves before going to the beach.

He said he doesn't anticipate the National Park Service adding lifeguards to any other beach than West Beach.

In Gary, Parks Director Lori Peterson Latham said the beach at Marquette Park is protected by lifeguards, but the beaches at Wells Street and Lake Street are not. Signs are posted in those areas.

"We try to restrict swimming to Marquette Park," she said, adding she believes education about the dangers of Lake Michigan and communicating with swimmers are the keys to safety.

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