Summer Safety Key to Fun in Michigan Outdoors

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Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing, MI — May 31, 2022

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, it is the unofficial arrival of summer in Michigan. As you head outdoors to enjoy the wonders of our magnificent state it pays to keep safety a top priority when having fun.

Here are some suggestions to make your Michigan adventures enjoyable and to return home without an incident that might spoil the experience.

Oh, and just a reminder. The “Three Free” weekend – two full days when residents and visitors can fish, ride Michigan’s off-road trails, and visit state parks as well as state-managed boating access sites at no cost – is set for Saturday, June 11, and Sunday, June 12. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

Visiting the Great Lakes

A lot of day trips and summer vacations are centered around the Great Lakes. While these beautiful and inviting destinations are the backdrop to many lifelong memories, learning how to keep yourself, friends and family safe is key.

The Great Lakes are large, powerful water systems prone to dangerous currents that can threaten even the most experienced swimmer. Adverse weather patterns can create rip and structural currents, especially near the outlets of rivers, piers and breakwalls. Crashing waves can create slippery surfaces and conditions strong enough to knock a person into the water.

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

Many – but not all – state parks on the Great Lakes have designated swimming areas that offer additional safety measures. These areas are identified by markers and/or buoys at a water depth likely less than 5 feet, and a beach flag warning system. Buoys and markers are typically installed prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend and removed at the end of the season.

If you’re at a beach with a flag warning system, check the color upon arrival and recheck often throughout the day because conditions can change rapidly.

  • Green flag = Go. Enter the water but stay aware of changing conditions.
  • Yellow flag = Caution. Watch for dangerous currents and high waves.
  • Red flag = Stop. Stay on the beach; do not enter the water and do not swim.

“Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of designated swim areas that offer the beach flag warning system and the visual cautions of buoys and markers, among other safety measures,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “Planning ahead and being prepared can help ensure a fun, safe holiday.”

Olson also emphasized never swimming alone, always keeping a close watch over children and bringing U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, especially for new and inexperienced swimmers.

In an ongoing effort to create more protections for visitors on state-managed lands, Land Use Order 5 of 2021 now prohibits people from accessing the water from a state-managed beach when risks to human health and safety are present. This includes situations like active rescue/recovery efforts, weather events identified as severe by the National Weather Service, waves more than 8 feet high, water contamination and unsafe debris washing ashore.

Such closures will be publicized via on-site signage and/or communication by a DNR employee, such as an announcement over a loudspeaker. Though swimming in the water would be prohibited, the beach would remain open.

The order does not apply to people using a self-propelled wave-riding board, such as a longboard and shortboard, kiteboard, body/”boogie” board with swim fins and skimboard, and when using commonly accepted safety rules and procedures.

Visit Michigan.gov/BeachSafety for tips on safely visiting the Great Lakes, including information about designated swim areas, the beach flag warning system, Great Lakes currents (and how to escape them) and more.

Don’t Rock the Boat

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

Early summer is a great time to refresh your boating safety skills. If you’re planning to be on or near the water this summer – take time before you leave shore to ensure you are prepared for a water emergency.

Keep in mind that current water temperatures throughout the state are still chilly, increasing the risk for hypothermia.

Keep these important boating safety tips in mind:

  • Complete an accredited boater safety education program.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • Leave a float plan with someone on shore.
  • Boat sober.
  • Stay alert for swimmers, wildlife, other boaters, escaped fish nets and debris floating near the surface of the water.
  • Make sure your vessel is in good operating condition before you leave shore and pack basic safety gear, including: life jackets, a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, tow rope and anchor.
  • Carry a cell phone or marine radio.
  • Pack water, snacks and weather-appropriate clothing in case you become stranded.

Learn more about boating safety or locate a boater safety education course near you at Michigan.gov/Boating. Got Questions? Contact Cpl. Jill Miller, MillerJ86@Michigan.gov.

Three Words for a Three Day Weekend: Play, Clean, Go

Whether it’s organizing a group kayak trip, packing for a weekend in the woods or just planning a picnic at the beach, getting ready for a three-day weekend can be complicated.

On the other hand, protecting the amazing places you’ll visit can be easy. Just remember three simple words: “Play, Clean, Go.”

The words don’t take up much space – and here’s the great thing: You can use them over and over again, no matter where you go! Adopting the “Play, Clean, Go” mindset can help prevent the spread of invasive species on land and in the water.

Here’s how it works:

PLAY: Swim, hike, fish, run, dance under the stars – however you have fun in the outdoors.

CLEAN: Before you leave the trail, campground or shore – shake it out, brush it off, wipe it down or whatever it takes to remove dirt and debris from your shoes, gear and vehicle. If you have a watercraft, remember to drain tanks and bilges, too.

GO: Head out on your next adventure, invasive species-free! Whether your plans include ORVing, hiking, boating or climbing, helpful tips tailored to your favorite outdoor pursuits can be found at PlayCleanGo.org/Take-Action.

Invasive insects and plant diseases cost the U.S. an estimated $40 billion annually in damage to trees, plants, crops and related management efforts. They can threaten the economy, food supply, environment and in some cases, public health.

As you head outdoors, remember that a little bit of prevention can go a long way. Take the time to share these easy steps with friends and family so everyone can do their part to protect our natural spaces.

Stay on the Safe Path While Off-Roading

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

Off-road vehicles are fun year-round. However, ORV activity ramps up in spring and summer throughout the state, as many head to the trails and ORV scramble areas and people begin their summer vacations.

Keep these important safety tips in mind when operating an ORV:

  • Ride at a safe speed based on your – and the machine’s – abilities.
  • Know the conditions of the trail you’re riding.
  • Ride sober.
  • Ride on the right side of the trail.
  • Wear a helmet and other appropriate safety gear, such as eye protection, gloves, footwear and chest protectors.
  • Ride with your lights on to increase your visibility to others.
  • Always supervise ORV operators who are under the age of 16 (it’s the law).
    Complete an approved ORV safety course.
  • Refer to manufacturer guidelines for the number of people your ORV can carry.
  • Stay on the trail and watch where you park. A hot muffler or engine can ignite dry leaves or grass, so keep machines away from potential fire fuel.
  • Make sure trailer chains are secure before you leave.

Read more about ORV safety at Michigan.gov/RideRight. For more information about where to ride ORVs and ORV laws in Michigan, go to Michigan.gov/ORVInfo. Got Questions? Contact Cpl. Mike Hearn, HearnM@Michigan.gov.

Spark Smiles Not a Wildfire

Many will welcome the summer season with campfires, grilling and outdoor fun.

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

With the recent Blue Lakes Fire in Montmorency and Cheboygan counties burning more than 2,500 acres, you might be wondering if your fire prevention measures are up to snuff. Nine of out 10 wildfires are started by people, and while the recent wildfire was started by lightning, it’s a reminder to always stay vigilant and practice fire safety.

If you’re heading out with an ORV or trailering equipment to a boat launch or campsite, here’s a tip from DNR firefighters: tighten chains so they won’t drag and spark on pavement. Also avoid parking hot equipment over dry grass, where it can ignite.

In the forest, know where you are on the trail and leave a ride or hike plan behind with someone you trust. If you see a plume of smoke and suspect a wildfire, get to safety and contact local authorities right away.

Starting a campfire? A little sprucing up may be in order. Remove vegetation from around the campfire ring and watch for floating embers while burning. If you’re planning to use fireworks, light them on a gravel or paved surface and don’t throw spent fireworks into a campfire. Instead, thoroughly soak sparklers and other fireworks in a bucket of water and dispose of them in the trash.

If you’ll be barbecuing, set up for success by ensuring the grill is on a hard, level surface so it won’t wobble. Start charcoal grills with tinder and a charcoal chimney, never use volatile gasoline or kerosene. Wait until the burgers or kebabs are a tasty memory and the grill is cold before emptying used coals into a metal bucket or other nonflammable container for disposal.

With any fire, keep a water source and a shovel nearby in case of emergency. Never leave a fire unattended, even for a moment.

Before burning yard waste, visit Michigan.gov/BurnPermit to see if open burning is permitted when and where you want to burn.

Get fire safety tips at Michigan.gov/PreventWildfires.

Don’t Let Ticks Torpedo Your Outdoor Fun

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

The concept of “the more there merrier” holds true for many gatherings, but some guests definitely are not invited for outdoor plans: Ticks. These tiny pests are more active in the warmer months (think: April through September), but remember to be vigilant anytime the outdoor temperature is higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though warm-weather outdoor activities surely increase the possibility of encountering a tick, there are several easy ways to protect yourself and your loved ones against tick bites and tick-borne diseases.

Wearing long pants, tall socks and light-colored clothing and applying insect repellent can help ward them off. If you’re in the forest or on the trails, try to stick to well-groomed trails and avoid high grass, brush and fallen leaves. Performing daily tick checks on yourself, your family and pets is just as important, too.

For help with tick identification, protection tips, tick-removal methods and other helpful resources, visit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ ticks webpage.

Long Trails and Tall Fish Tales

Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

Now that you know what you need to stay safe this outdoor season, The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has suggestions on where to enjoy the state’s great outdoors. The DNR and its regional tourism partners have pulled together interactive maps showing some great places to fish and trails to tackle.

While we can’t guarantee the skies will be sunny, we promise that no matter where you go, you’ll make memories on the road, among the trees and on the shores. Stay safe and have fun!

Thanks to the Michigan DNR for providing valuable suggestions to ensure safe outdoor fun.