Chesterton Tribune

Avoidable tragedy on National Lakeshore beaches

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Voice of the People

In our short time of living here at Porter Beach, Indiana, we have now been witness to three avoidable drownings at National Lakeshore beaches. All three happened on beautiful sunny days with inviting waves.

But as those of us who live here know, and as the National Park Service and Indiana Dunes State Park know full well, danger lurked. Strong winds from the north were ripe for creating deadly rip currents. Last Saturday, August 2, 2008, at the State Park just east of Porter Beach, their PA system was warning, “The beach will probably be closed all day today due to the dangerous conditions with the possibility of rip currents.”

In all three incidents, vacationing families from Chicago were among those who came to the State Park to enjoy the day. Finding the beach there closed, they simply went east or west to National Park beaches that are unmanned, so not closed to swimming.

Some would say, “What’s with those families to allow their kids to swim when it is dangerous?” It is so easy to blame the victims. But those three families were among the hundreds of others that were also out in the waves risking danger.

We locals may know the danger signals; indeed we, and as we learned later, many of our neighbors, had said prayers last Saturday morning that disaster would not strike again. But the danger is a mystery to most of the visiting families. These are the very people the National Lakeshore targets to come and enjoy the beach, the ones for whom they have added parking and toilet facilities here at Porter Beach in the last few years.

Yet the National Park System does little to protect them. We are offended by the National Park personnel glad-handing with the press here to witness yet another drowning, washing their hands of any responsibility with cavalier statements, “We post warnings.” Sure, a sign is up all summer, regardless of its relevance any particular day, with a generic warning.

We understand that full time lifeguards are not practical. But a system needs to be in place for the National Park to step up and do what is necessary to close its six unpatrolled beaches when there are known dangers. And do not tell us “It’s too expensive.” The latest search “Included the use of three helicopters, seven boats, up to 60 divers from several agencies and more than 100 people, according to police.” How expensive is that?

They owe this much to the memory of Juan Ruiz, 15, DaVante Jackson, 14, and Raphael Palomar, 13. Our hearts go out to their families.

Roger and Stephanie Carnell



Posted 8/7/2008