Traffic light-like system aims to save lives on Muskegon beach

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MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A new warning system is up and running at the beach at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon to let swimmers know if it’s safe to go in Lake Michigan. 

The city installed warning lights that look like traffic lights last week. A green light means the lake is calm. The yellow light means that the lake poses a moderate risk to swimmers. The red light means the water is dangerous and swimmers should not go in. 

The new beach warning lights at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon. (June 2, 2021)

“The (lights) are a beach warning system. What it does is it uses cellular data to take information from the National Weather Service and NOAA and it just relays the information on what they’re reporting the beach conditions to be,” Muskegon Director of Public Works Leo Evans explained.

Evans said the lights automatically update as the lake conditions change throughout the day. 

“We’re always looking to improve safety at the beach. There is really no safe substitute to say it’s safe to swim. It’s subjective on what a person knows and how good of a swimmer they are and so many other factors,” said Evans.

The system, made by SwimSmart Technologies, cost the city about $13,000 to install.

Last year, the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project labeled 2020 as the deadliest year on Lake Michigan in at least the last decade. GLSRP counted 21 deaths on Michigan’s shorelines. At least two of those drownings happened at Pere Marquette Park. 

Beachgoers say they hope the new lights prevent future tragedies. 

“I think it’s a great safety feature. People don’t understand how dangerous the lake can be and there are too many drownings up and down the lakeshore,” said Ruth Vanderstelt, who was at the beach Wednesday. “So I think it’s a great idea and it’s going to help families come to the beach and be safer.”

Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon on June 2, 2021.

The city says the lights offer an important warning but everyone should approach the lake with caution at all times. 

“Just because it’s green doesn’t mean it’s safe to swim. A person needs to know their own limitations and be advising themselves,” Evans warned.

The city says that if the warning lights prove to be successful, they’ll consider adding them to other beaches in the area. 

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