Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 6, 2013

Drownings at Twin Lakes raise safety concerns

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Owen Williamson is the third person to drown at Grand Traverse County’s Twin Lakes Park since 2010, and one county official said she raised concerns about safety there after a previous death.

Williamson, 17, drowned at the park off North Long Lake Road on May 31 while swimming with friends.

Nicholas Lawrence Wayne Cooper, 17, of Maple City, drowned there in 2010 attempting to swim from a beach to another shore, and Daniel Edward Doherty, 19, of Traverse City, drowned in 2011 while searching for rocks in the lake.

Grand Traverse County Commissioner Christine Maxbauer said she went to the beach in 2011 following Doherty’s death and asked parents about safety at the public park. Many expressed concerns about a steep and unexpected drop off near shallow waters frequented by swimmers.

“They said ‘Mark the drop-off, mark the swim area, give us a fighting chance,’” Maxbauer said.

Maxbauer said she asked Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Director Jason Jones about marking the swimming area, but nothing was done. She next contacted then-County Administrator Dennis Aloia with her concerns, and she said buoys were in place the next day.

Jones said Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, a public entity self-insurance pool that serves as the parks department’s risk management association, advised county officials to only post a warning sign near the lake.

“We have to identify there is no one on duty,” Jones said. “It is swim at your own risk.”

Jones said his department ropes off a swimming area and posts lifeguards when youth camps visit the park as required by state law. He said the county never prepared any buoys for the water after drownings during his tenure with the department. Maxbauer disputes that statement.

Jones could not be reached for additional comment, but previously said county officials are reviewing all three drownings and their park safety procedures.

“To ensure that no other drownings take place at Twin Lakes, or any of our other parks for that matter,” Jones said.

Patrick Reed fished at Twin Lakes Park this week and said he’s swam there his entire life. He described the water as “pretty cold” and said “it gets deep quick.”

Reed estimated the lake bottom drops off to a depth where most people cannot stand at about 12 to 15 feet offshore.

“The only shallow part is what you can see here,” Reed said as he pointed to the visible sandy bottom directly in front of the park’s beach area.

North Twin Lake is 67-feet deep at its deepest point, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.