Corps concerned with rising number of deaths at its parks
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is concerned about what appears so far to be a deadly recreation season at many Corps parks nationwide, and there has been an upswing in the number of drownings in the Little Rock District as well. The Corps is concentrating on water safety outreach to help curb this alarming trend.
By the end of May, 57 people had died on Corps-owned property across the country this year, compared to 39 during the same five-month period last year - a more than 32 percent increase. Most of these fatalities were from drowning. Corps officials report more than 90 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket when they died.
At Little Rock District parks, which are located across much of Arkansas and southern Missouri, nine people have drowned so far this fiscal year. This compares to two people for the same period in 2010. None of these victims appears to have been wearing a life jacket.
"Public safety is our number one priority," Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. Temple, acting commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said. "The increase in deaths at USACE parks this year is of great concern to us. We want to do everything we can to make people aware of potential risks when they visit one of our recreation areas, and how to make good decisions that will improve safety for themselves, families and friends."
Tracy Fancher, acting chief of operations in Little Rock District and operations manager over Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes, echoed the general's concerns.
"The single most important thing visitors to the region's lakes and rivers can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from drowning is to ensure everyone in your group wears a life jacket when on or in the water," Fancher said. "Few people drown while wearing a life jacket. Somehow we have got to get people to change their behavior and start wearing life jackets."
The next most important thing is to avoid drinking alcohol, he said. "Alcohol consumption is typically involved in a disproportionate share of drownings."
Other tips Corps officials encourage are for visitors to check local water and weather conditions before setting out and to heed recreation warnings, such as small craft advisories, beach closures and the like.
Corps officials say they will continue efforts to promote boating and water safety, and with the public's support they will work to save lives.
More information about water safety is available on Little Rock District's website at www.swl.usace.army.mil, or find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/littlerockusace.
The Corps is the nation's largest federal provider of water-based outdoor recreation, hosting more than 370 million visits per year at 422 lakes in 43 states. To find a Corps recreation area near you visit www.CorpsLakes.us.