By Jessa McClure
With the nation's economy still recovering, many people are opting to stay close to home this summer and enjoy camping in their local parks. According to The Outdoor Foundation, more than 42 million Americans went camping in 2011, and the numbers continue to grow each year.
This "staycation" option is especially popular with families who live near a scenic body of water like a lake or river. While these picturesque locations are perfect for entertaining children, and indulging in water sports, they can also bring hidden dangers.
So, in order to keep your little ones safe and enjoy some fun in the sun, it's important to know how to protect your family. Park Ranger Robert Giacomozzi, of the Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lakes, offers some helpful tips for those who are venturing into the outdoors this summer.
1. Wear a lifejacket anytime you are near the water
"The best thing parents can do for their children when they're around water is to put them in a life jacket that is well-fitted," Giacomozzi said. "Across the country, 80 percent of people who have died in water accidents weren't wearing a life jacket."
Texas state law requires children under the age of 13 to wear a life jacket when they're on a boat. The only exception to this rule is when the boat is anchored or docked, but the park ranger suggests leaving the life jacket on even in these instances.
2. Know the signs of drowning
Drowning can be a silent killer. It takes only seconds for a person to be in distress, and usually occurs 10 to 30 feet from safety.
If you notice someone with their arms up, their head thrown back and their mouth at water level, they might just be struggling to stay afloat. If you think someone is drowning, get help right away.
"A lot of people say they are strong swimmers, but your ability to swim successfully changes with water conditions, wind condition and wave action," Giacomozzi said. "A good swimmer in a swimming pool might not be a good swimmer in an open water environment."
3. Don't approach wildlife
If you're out at a campground, you could potentially encounter wild animals. You should never approach a wild animal, no matter how cute and friendly it may appear. Even feral cats are considered part of the wild population and could be carrying potentially harmful diseases.
"In Texas, we have a rising instance of rabies," he said. "We've had six cases in Bell County in the last year and the majority of those were skunks. These are the kinds of things we don't think about when we go to the parks."
4. Make sure children wear proper footwear
Children should wear soled footwear while walking near the lake or around their campsite.
"There could be bottle caps, glass and potentially fish hooks," Giacomozzi said. "A good set of soled, water shoes is a great choice to protect feet on the shore and in the water."
5. Watch for stinging insects
"Remember there are always bees, especially around dumpsters and open cans of soda," the park ranger said. "And remember slapping them around is a bad idea because they have buddies."
It's also a good idea to make sure children know the danger of fire ants, and are watching where they are sitting.
"Kids sit down someplace without paying attention, especially the smaller kids, and they find themselves suddenly swarmed by fire ants," he said. "They're mostly uncomfortable, but if you're allergic, then you have anaphylactic shock to worry about."
6. Know how to find help
When you enter the park, there should be gate attendants in the camping area. Make sure you know how to contact these attendants if you have any questions. They should have access to the park ranger. And if you're dealing with an emergency situation, call 911.
7. Inspect your campsite
"The very first thing I do when I go to a park is inspect everything for wasps' nests or things that might not have been reported," Giacomozzi said. "I look around the campsite and make sure there aren't any broken bottles or other hazards. It doesn't take but a moment to take a look around and make sure the area is safe."
8. Use insect repellent
Insects like mosquitoes and chiggers are common in Texas parks, and in wooded areas all over the country. They can even be a problem out on a boat in the middle of the lake. The best way to protect your children is to spray their exposed skin with child-friendly insect repellent.
Back To Top