Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Hopeful holiday lake goers probably should have made their reservations early at the ever popular Fort Supply Lake, said Chief Park Ranger, Don Underwood.
According to Underwood, all of the camping spots with electricity are reserved already and there are only some primitive locations open, which are first come first serve. There is, however, plenty of room for daytime lake goers.
But his primary concern wasn't really centered on whether everyone would fit into the park on the third largest lake holiday of the year.
Underwood's big concern is what it always is, safety.
"Oh, not that again," you may say. But it's easy for someone not in a park ranger's job to brush off the reality of drowning.
The general public doesn't live with the lingering and sometimes haunting nightmares and misplaced guilt over the loss of life at a lake for which he is responsible.
So today, when he spoke to the Woodward News, he recounted his concern with a stern and serious expression.
"We just can't say it enough about water safety," he said. "We cite people every weekend out here who don't have proper safety equipment for their boats and many other things," he said.
So one more time, and a thousand more after that, Underwood said he will remind people to take safety seriously.
"I do not want one more death on this lake," he said.
Underwood is referring primarily to the death of 18-year-old man Johnathan T. Loftis early this summer. But others, such as the 2010 drowning of 29-year-old Sean Henson also haunt his mind.
"Children under 12 must have a life jacket on," he said. "Not just on, but secured. Not just nearby, but on and secured," he said.
A safety citation at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes costs $90, Underwood said.
"And the court cost is another $25 fee as well as having to go to Oklahoma City where all our cases are handled." he said.
Underwood said there are also problems with people who do not understand the buoy warning system, which includes orange circles, which indicates a "no wake" area where boaters need to slow down. The diamond shapes indicate a possible underwater hazard and a diamond with an X inside of it indicates an area that is off limits, he said
"You know, on some of these lakes, if you get to close to the gate towers, when those things start flowing you can be pulled through the gate and taken over the dam," Underwood said.
Underwood also said slower, more thoughtful and careful operation of water sporting vehicles, such as water skis and boats is key to remaining safe.
"In this case television is our worst enemy," Underwood said. "Commercials show people driving these things fast and in an exciting way but that is not always the best way of driving."