By Brig. Gen. David C. Hill
Dallas–This year, your U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks and lakes will welcome numerous visitors as we celebrate our nation’s independence over an extended holiday weekend. With the Fourth of July falling on a Monday this year, some will be fortunate enough to make the holiday weekend even longer by taking time off this Friday. What could be better than that?
As the proud stewards of 2.3 million acres of public land and water, the dedicated workforce of the Southwestern Division of the Army Corps of Engineers will be excited and ready to welcome citizens at our parks and lakes across much of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri this weekend and throughout the summer.
In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers is the nation’s largest provider of water-based outdoor recreation. Annually, the Southwestern Division tracks $2.5 billion in visitor spending and 19,000 jobs created within 30 miles of our lakes and over $56 million dollars in recreation fees returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Now, these are some impressive statistics!
But there’s a darker side to the statistics too.
Through June of this year, there have been 33 public fatalities at Southwestern Division recreation facilities–double what we experienced in the same timeframe last year and the highest we have experienced this early in a summer since 2011.
As to who makes up these fatalities, over the past ten years, 88 percent of all Army Corps of Engineers water-related public recreation fatalities were men, and 63 percent were between the ages of 20 and 60. Also, 84 percent were not wearing life jackets and 27 percent of boating fatalities were from falls overboard. In addition to boating falls, the activity that caused the most water-related fatalities was swimming in undesignated areas.
To many, these heartbreaking statistics may only occupy their thoughts briefly as a report reviewed at an Army Corps of Engineer Headquarters or by local law enforcement, or as a soundbite heard on the local evening news.
To friends, classmates and neighbors, every one of these events is a tragedy–a seat left open in school or at church–to families it is the end of the world.
Our Park Rangers can tell you that every one of the 33 public fatalities we have experienced this year was not simply a number but a sad human story that we need to learn from to save lives in the future. No one thinks it will happen to him or his friends or loved ones, but it happens time after time. And nearly every time, it could have been prevented with a little thought, concern and action.
The Army Corps of Engineers has a water safety campaign currently going on that sums it up quite simply: Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns. Please take these words to heart this holiday weekend and every time you are in or on the water.
There’s a saying that everybody is someone’s universe. Each time we record a fatality at one of our parks or lakes, someone’s universe has ended. It’s a tragic ending, much more than a statistic, and so unnecessary.