TRAVERSE CITY — An increase in drownings on Lake Michigan in the last six weeks has public safety advocates reminding tourists and locals alike to respect the big lake’s power.
Dave Benjamin, spokesman for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said at least 15 people died on Lake Michigan since June 6; prior to that date no drownings were reported this year.
Three of those deaths occurred in northwestern Michigan. A 16-year-old died in Grand Traverse Bay June 23 and two others died in canoe and kayak incidents off the Leelanau County coastline, including an 8-year-old boy who perished July 1 after spending more than an hour in chilly waters during a canoe trip with his father to and from North Manitou Island.
“We had a slow start with the drownings this year due to a cold winter and spring, but now we are seeing a spike in the numbers,” Benjamin said. “Why? Because the water temps are in the 75-to-80 degree range. It’s perfect water to swim in, and when the wind blows, here come the waves.”
Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said the number of drownings on the lake is a significant topic of conversation in the county. People want to know “why are all these people drowning?” he said.
One simple answer: people aren’t respecting Lake Michigan’s power, its ability to change at a moment’s notice, and how icy-cold waters in early summer can be lethal, Borkovich said.
“If you asked a guy in the 1950s, ‘Hey, let’s take a kayak and go out into the middle of Lake Michigan,’ they would look at you and say ‘Are you crazy?’” Borkovich said. “People have lost respect for the Great Lakes. They are callous towards the dangers. They are being challenged by all these reality shows ... to go out and somehow ... engage it.”