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Official wants lifeguards back on Pa. park beaches

State auditor general says higher pay is an option at some parks.

TOBYHANNA — A high-ranking state official wants to get lifeguards back on duty at state park beaches.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced earlier this year that it would have an open-swim policy at state park beaches, except Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie. Officials said they were having a hard time finding guards, especially once students go back to school in August.

But Auditor General Jack Wagner said the lifeguards are needed. Wagner said he would support offering lifeguards higher pay in some areas and recommending that DCNR work with state universities to offer credit to college students.

“We believe very strongly that lifeguards present an element of safety and reduce the potential of someone being seriously injured or dying,” Wagner said. “If we can save one life a year due to lifeguards, it is well worth the expenditure of $800,000, or $1 million, or $2 million, for parents to have that peace of mind.”

A report by Wagner’s department found that DCNR would save $800,000 with the cut.

On June 14, a 17-year-old boy died after being struck by lightning while swimming at Gouldsboro State Park. Wagner said he doesn’t know if a lifeguard could have saved the teen’s life.

In the last 10 years, there have been two deaths, both by drowning, at state park beaches, according to state officials. In both cases, the state had lifeguards in place.

DCNR spokeswoman Christine Novak said the department will continue monitoring the situation.

“This is something we’ve been evaluating as we’ve added more (open swim) parks,” Novak said. “We’re continuing to evaluate it from a safety perspective.”

By last year, 23 state parks had unguarded beaches. This summer, another 15 beaches will be unguarded.

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