Swimming, boating and just plain floating can deliver plenty of summer joy. The Great Lakes, rivers and inland lakes truly are a wonderland of recreation.
But our precious waters can turn around and bite those who don’t treat them with respect.
Humans are land dwellers. When we step into the water or float atop it, we are guests in a foreign environment. Wise people treat the big lakes like the awesome incarnations of nature that they are. They’re beautiful, they’re huge, they’re deep, they’re unpredictable — and we’re not naturally equipped to survive too long in their embrace.
We are reminded all too regularly how dangerous they can be. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project so far this year has recorded 65 drowning deaths. More than half those, 36, occurred in Lake Michigan, including one in East Grand Traverse Bay and one along the Sleeping Bear Dunes shoreline.
Those figures don’t include the July drowning death of a 78-year-old man in Green Lake.
Each personal tragedy affects a family, a group of friends and a community. Each drowning adds to the dreadful death toll that our collective recreational pursuits end up claiming summer after summer. The number of annual Great Lakes drownings in recent years has hovered around 100.
Thankfully, some incidents on the water end up not as grim statistics, but as cautionary tales.
Everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief Saturday when all 13 people aboard survived without injury the sinking of a rented pontoon boat in Torch Lake. The eight adults and five children went home safe.
But that same day, 200 miles away, crews recovered the body of a Detroit firefighter who on Friday jumped in to help save three young girls who screamed for help as they struggled in the Detroit River.
The girls survived. The off-duty firefighter didn’t make it out alive. The deputy commissioner of the Detroit Fire Department said that, though he was off-duty at the time, Fire Sgt. Sivad Johnson’s heroic sacrifice will be labeled as a line-of-duty death.
Closer to home, a similar rescue earned deserved recognition this week.
Two bystanders combined forces at Peterson Beach in Benzie County to rescue a 5-year-old girl who was blown off shore and was left treading water for her survival. Justin Perry, a drummer with a rock, reggae and funk band, and digital marketer Jason Hadfield brought her safely back to shore. Both men were honored Tuesday with life-saving awards from the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office and the National Park Service.
Michigan’s waters are an inseparable part of summer in northern Michigan. But everyone, even excellent swimmers, should approach them with caution.