(CBS DETROIT) – As the summer season approaches, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urges everyone to keep water and pier safety in mind.

The DNR says the Great Lakes hold more than 20% of the world’s fresh water and are large, powerful water systems.

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Mears State Park, 2018

These lakes are prone to dangerous currents that can threaten even the most experienced swimmers. Adverse weather patterns can create dangerous rip and structural current along piers and breakwalls, too.

“The DNR eagerly welcomes millions of visitors to Michigan state parks each summer,” said Sean Mulligan, Holland State Park manager. “Visitors should keep in mind that winds can come up quickly, changing conditions without warning, so always pay attention to the weather. The Great Lakes can become very dangerous, especially when waves get higher than 4 feet.”

Unfortunately, several emergencies and drownings have occurred along the beach and breakwall areas, with many happening on red flag days when there are strong winds and waves.

Of Michigan’s 100-plus state parks, 42 offer access to Great Lakes shorelines.

Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, says the increase in accidents on the Great Lakes in recent years is troubling and shows a need for greater public awareness.

Grand Haven, Holland, Ludington, and Mears state parks are situated in locations where rip currents tend to build and recurring safety hazards are present.

“When it comes to protecting Michigan residents and visitors on the water, especially the Great Lakes, we cannot talk enough about safety, preparation, and vigilant awareness,” Olson said.

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Red Flag Flying at Holland State Park | Credit: Michigan DNR

New Safety Measures

  • In the fall of 2020, Holland State Park staff collaborated with Park Township and The King Company to fund a gate on the pier adjacent to Holland State Park. The gate will generally be closed during the winter, when the red flags fly, and during night hours when the park is closed.
  • An electronic messaging board conveying beach conditions is located where visitors enter Holland State Park.
  • A new public address system that Holland State Park staff will use to update beachgoers as the beach warning flags are changed in response to weather conditions.
  • Ludington State Park set up an electronic bulletin messaging board at the entrance to the designated beach area to help alert visitors of current conditions.

Designated Swim Areas

Many state parks on the Great Lakes offer designated swim areas, identified by buoys or buoys and markers, a beach flag warning system, and water depth less than 5 feet at the time of installation.

Be sure to check the flag upon arrival and monitor it throughout the day because conditions can change rapidly.

Green flag = Go. Enter the water but stay aware of changing conditions.
Yellow flag = Caution. Watch for dangerous currents and high waves.
Red flag = Stop. Stay on the beach; do not enter the water, and do not swim.

Red Flag flying at Albert E. Sleeper State Park | Credit: Michigan DNR

There are no beach guards at state parks, so individuals are urged never to swim alone, keep close watch of children, and make sure that children are wearing life jackets.

If there is an emergency, immediately call 911. At Holland and Grand Haven state parks, use the nearest red zone number boards (located on the beach) to help relay your location as accurately as possible.

Nondesignated Swim Areas

Visitors swimming in non-designated swimming areas should be extremely cautious because there will be no beach flag warning system or the visual cautions of buoys that mark water depth and other obstacles.

For more information visit, Michigan.gov/BeachSafety to learn about the beach flag warning system, how to escape rip currents, and more.

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