Cowans Gap beach won't have lifeguards

January 26, 2008|By ASHLEY HARTMAN

FORT LOUDON, PA. - Cowans Gap State Park in Fort Loudon is one of 15 parks in Pennsylvania that will implement an open-swim policy this year at its swimming beach, Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), announced earlier this month in a press release.

This means the beaches no longer will have lifeguards. The use of lifeguards will continue at swimming pools at state parks, said the press release, which was issued Jan. 10.

The open-swim policy will not affect pools because they have a much larger turnout than lakes, according to DCNR Deputy Press Secretary Terrence Brady.

"There is a heavier concentration of people in a shorter duration of time at pools," Brady said.

Cowans Gap State Park Manager Stephen Behe said this policy means people are going to have to be more vigilant in watching their children.


"Children must be under the direct supervision of an adult," he said. "We want the adult in the water with the children."

Cowans Gap State Park has one lake swimming area that is six feet at its deepest and has a 500-foot-wide swimming area, Behe said. The lake is opened for swimming from May 1 until Sept. 30 from sunrise to sunset.

"People are just going to have to be more careful, like they are at the beach," Behe said.

The implementation of open-swim beaches at lakes is a national trend because it allows state parks to operate more efficiently, and provides greater public access to beaches, according to the press release.

"I'm not going to say I won't miss the lifeguards down there - they did a good job," Behe said. "We will miss them, but we'll just work with what we've got now."

Beaches will continue to be patrolled and monitored by state park staff, the press release said.

Twenty-three of Pennsylvania's 117 state parks already have implemented this policy, according to the press release. A little more than one-third of those parks have lakes, Brady said.

"It was not something that was just jumped into," Brady said. "At least eight years ago, we had it in one or two (parks)."

"If there were problems with the first two or three parks, we would not have continued," Brady said.

Brady said the public has been very supportive of the project and that it has been duly posted.

The only state park in Pennsylvania with a swimming beach that will not be affected by the policy is Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa. because "currents on the lake make water hazards much different than other smaller lakes in the state park system," according to the press release.

"The open-swim program provides increased opportunities for swimmers beyond the hours and seasons during which lifeguards are available," DiBerardinis said in the press release. "Over the last few years, we have successfully implemented open-swim policies at 23 of our state parks. We will add the remainder of the state parks with lakes this year."

Brady said Pennsylvania state parks have had major problems with keeping lifeguarding positions staffed when young people go back to college or high school.

"Some parks had to scrape to get one or two lifeguards," Brady said. "(The open-swim policy) wasn't an intent to save money."

Seven lifeguard positions were cut from Cowans Gap State Park, Behe said.

"There will be some interaction with the public with an employee of the park for info that won't be (here without the lifeguards)," Behe said. "But visitors can still get that information from rangers or our park office."

In the past, Cowans Gap State Park had periods without lifeguards, and Behe said there were not any safety issues during that time.

"We'll have brochures out, and the swimming area will be marked that there's no lifeguards out there," Behe said.

The park let people know about the new policy by putting out a statewide press release and contacting each of its lifeguards as well as local YMCAs, Behe said.

"I feel bad. They were a great group of lifeguards," Behe said.

The park will continue to have first aid available for the public and a phone by the beach to use for emergencies, Behe said.

Simming Tips

Tips for open-swim areas, from Stephen Behe, manager of Cowans Gap State Park:

· Children must be under direct in-water adult supervision.

· Nonswimmers need to be careful and/or wear a personal floatation device.

· If you have any doubt, don't go in deep water.

· Come to Cowans Gap State Park earlier or later in the day because it will be less crowded.

· Swim with a buddy.

· Use personal floatation devices.

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