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New feature at Michigan state beach parks hopes to increase safety at the lake

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, which means it's time to hit the beach. This year, state beaches will have an added layer of safety.

HOLLAND, Michigan — Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, which means it's time to hit the beach.

This year, state beaches will have an added layer of safety. One of those beaches is Holland State Park.

There used to be three beach warning flags at the park: 

  • Green = low hazard: Calm conditions. Enter the water, but exercise caution.
  • Yellow = medium hazard: Moderate surf and/or currents. Watch for dangerous currents and high waves.
  • Red = high hazard: High surf and/or strong currents. It's recommended that you stay on the beach.

Now, there's a fourth symbol: Double red flags, which means beachgoers aren't allowed to enter the water at all because of dangerous conditions or they could be issued a citation.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) implemented the double red flag system at some state parks last year, but the system is being implemented at nearly 30 state parks this year in an effort to prevent drownings and to save lives.

Wife and husband Carol and John Perschbacher were taking advantage of living close to Lake Michigan and were visiting Holland State park Tuesday afternoon. Having grown up going to the beach, they understand the dangers of the water.

"When it's rough, it's very dangerous," said John. "Especially around the piers. You don't realize the difference in the water there. You just can't get out of the water." 

"People have to make sure they head by [the flag warnings] and not disobey them or go on the piers or be crazy," said Carol.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, which tracks drownings across Michigan, reports there have been 1,170 Great Lakes drownings since 2010 with 108 of those drownings in 2022 alone and almost 50% of them happened in Lake Michigan. 

The project's co-founder, Bob Pratt says even though the flags are a new helpful visual reminder, beachgoers still need to be cautious because conditions are always changing.

"Truly if you're a non-swimmer or have children who are non swimmers or poor swimmers, there's no such thing as a green flag day," said Pratt. "There's no such thing as relatively safe. It's a very dangerous place." 

In addition to the flags, there will also be signage at the entrances reminding people of the lake conditions.

The state parks do not have lifeguards.

Carol says hopefully people won't take any chances this year.

"I think people would generally know 'red means stop' and 'double red means, for real.' Don't do it." 

The DNR hopes the flags will be up by this Memorial Day weekend although it's not a hard set time frame. 


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