Swimming: yes Lifeguards: no
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS The sign at Beltzville Lake State Park advises people of the absence of lifeguards.
With temperatures soaring, a nice cool dip into one of Pennsylvania's state park lakes, including Beltzville and Hickory Run in Carbon County and Tuscarora and Locust Lake in Schuylkill County, sounds inviting.
But make sure to keep careful watch over children if you go: the state is entering its third year without lifeguards at all but two of its lakes.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the parks, decided three years ago that lifeguards are not needed at the lakes, except for Presque Isle on Lake Erie. Lifeguards were reinstated at Fuller Lake in Cumberland County after a drowning in July 2008.
The program to stop providing lifeguards began in 1998, and was done in phases, DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak said. Lifeguards are still in place at state park swimming pools, such as the one at Frances Slocum State Park in Luzerne County.
DCNR began phasing out the lifeguards for two reasons, Novak said.
"Initially, because we had, in some areas, some difficulty finding lifeguards. Additionally, we had difficulties in August," she said.
Novak said that most lifeguards are college students, and would either go back to school or on vacation with their own families in that month.
Before eliminating the lifeguards, DCNR talked to park visitors about how they felt about not having the protection, and studied the safety records of other states and federal facilities that had no-lifeguard swimming policies.
"There didn't seem to be a significant difference between when they had lifeguards and when they didn't, with respect to the number of incidents that occurred," Novak said.
Although the move is saving the state about $800,000 a year, she stressed that the action was not about saving money, but about extending the swimming season and operating more efficiently.
However, the move to phase out the lifeguards is not without opposition from 50 state lawmakers.
State Rep. Sue Helm, R-Dauphin, introduced the measure co-sponsored by 49 other state representatives, including Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill; Mario Scavello, R-Monroe and John Siptroth, D-Monroe on March 4, 2009. It has languished in the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee ever since.
The bill would compel DCNR to hire a "sufficient number of certified lifeguards to provide water safety and lifesaving services to patrons in each state park that has a public beach during such times as the public beach is open to patrons." It would also set aside $1 million a year to do that.