BUCKHANNON — Although most area pools are closed this summer, there are many other local places to beat the heat and have fun in the sun. Our state is fortunate to have over 2,000 miles of navigable streams and hundreds of lakes open for anglers, swimmers and boaters to enjoy – particularly local lakes, Stonewall Jackson and Stonecoal. With these activities, however, comes safety precautions.
Stonewall Jackson Lake Dam, Army Corp of Engineer Resource Manager Jeff Toler explained, “With any lake, there’s always safety hazards on the surface of the water and underneath of the water. This changes as the lake fluctuates up and down.”
He emphasized being aware of floating debris, as well as realizing there may be things under the surface that you cannot see – such as glass, fishing line and hooks, tree branches, etc. This debris can cause someone to get cut, snagged, or hung up – potentially resulting in drowning or other serious injuries.
The Army Corp of Engineers recommends using the buddy system in case you fall into trouble. However, they do not recommend jumping in to save someone, unless you’re trained to do so. It is possible to drown yourself in the process, if you haven’t been properly trained. Instead, they recommend “reach, throw, go.” This means reach for something, throw something out for them to grab, and go get help, Toller explained.
They also do not recommend swimming off the shore, due to the potential debris underneath the water. “If you’re going to swim in the lake off the shore, folks need to be aware of the potential hazards under the water and make a conscious decision based on that,” he stated.
Jumping off bridges is illegal and could result in a fine. It is a safety hazard and jumping off bridges is absolutely prohibited.
At Stonecoal Lake, swimming is prohibited; however, people can fish, boat and kayak. When doing so, everyone on board must have a lifejacket, including when kayaking. WV Division of Natural Resources Captain Douglas A. Benson stated, “Lifejackets are important…make sure everyone has a Coast Guard approved wearable lifejacket and that they’re in serviceable condition.” For example, do not give a child an adult lifejacket.
“These lakes are what they are – nature,” Toller stated, and added “We need to treat them as such.” People must always practice safety, regardless of what lake they are on – the message is the same.
The Army Corp of Engineers is 100 percent about water safety, Toller explained. That is the prime product they give to their customers, especially over the summer.
He highly recommends that people are aware and understand the state and federal laws before entering the lake. “We care about our customers, the public, and we want to keep everyone safe,” Toller assured.
The WV DNR recommends being educated, being practiced, safe, sober and prepared when using West Virginia waterways. To learn more about boating safety, or to sign up for an in-person or online course, visit www.wvdnr.gov/enforce/boating.