"Swim at Your Own Risk" Policy Effective at Stephen's Lake

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COLUMBIA - Stephens Lake has a "swim at your own risk" policy, meaning there are no lifeguards on duty during hours of operation.

Columbia Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said that over a ten-year period, there have only been two drownings at Stephens Lake Park. While the "swim at your own risk" policy has been effective so far, Griggs said there may be chance of adding lifeguards at Stephens Lake in the future.

"I would say it's always a possibility," Griggs said. "You just never know. I think that hopefully with our education and with forcing the rules and regulations, 99.9 percent of the people will be safe."

He said a major reason for Stephens Lake not having lifeguards has to do with cost. When Parks and Recreation were considering options for the new park, they wanted to have a location where Columbia residents could swim for free, much like Lake of the Ozarks.

Safety is still the most important issue. Griggs said he suggests three major safety tips to swimmers in mid-Missouri. He said to always swim with a buddy, never swim after dark and never swim while inebriated.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In terms of age groups, children are the biggest concern when it comes to drowning. Children between the ages of one and four are the most at risk group for drowning.

Columbia has four outdoor aquatic facilities, all of which have lifeguards present during hours of operation. An adult must accompany and supervise children 10 years old and younger. An adult at the Columbia pools is classified as anyone who is 16 years and older.

Although, lifeguards are trained to look after swimmers while they are at the pool, Janel Twehous, Columbia Parks and Recreation Supervisor, said parents should stay attentive.

"Yes, our lifeguards are there to protect and save lives, but ultimately it just takes a second, and if that parent is doing the job of watching their children, there shouldn't be issues," Twehous said.

Although it concerns some parents, the policy has been successful. Twehous said she hasn't heard any complaints about the policy. In fact, she says most complaints don't have anything to do with safety at all.

"The biggest complaint that we get would be, ‘Why do I have to have a swimsuit on?'," Twehous said. "Any of the outdoor facilities, you have to wear swim attire."

Columbia Parks and Recreation has no plans to change its swimming pool or lake policies in the near future.