Larger Crowds Expected At Understaffed Oklahoma Lakes This Weekend

Thursday, May 24th 2012, 5:32 pm
By: Craig Day

State law enforcement are expecting bigger than normal crowds this holiday weekend at area lakes because of the warmer start to the season.

But Oklahoma has a shortage of lake patrol officers right now. Some people are upset and worried there won't be enough officers on Oklahoma's largest lake.

Between 3 and 4-million people visit Lake Eufaula every year. But this year, there are only 2 lake patrol officers for the entire lake.

"It's unheard of," Brenda Otis, Eufaula resident, said. "I think it's despicable."

Longtime Eufaula resident Brenda Otis says with Eufaula being the state's largest lake, with 640 miles of shoreline, two lake patrol officers aren't enough.

"I don't know how they can expect two people to handle over 102,000 acres of water and be effective," Otis said.

At one point, there were six lake patrol officers on Eufaula, plus seasonal help. The concern now is with so few officers there won't be as many safety checks on the water.

"The visibility of our troopers on the lake has a lot to do with our safety on the lake," said Bill Beam with the Eufaula Chamber of Commerce.

Beam says with a lake stretching 65 miles north and south and more than 100 miles east and west, response time becomes an issue.

"If there is an accident on the lake anywhere, there's going to be a long response time for our troopers to get there," Beam said.

"I don't know how you could get anywhere in time to be effective," Otis said.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol acknowledges there is a shortage in its marine division. But hopes new recruits graduating in August will help speed up transfers of Troopers to the Lake Patrol who can't be spared on the roads right now.

"We're hoping when this patrol school gets out, we'll be able to free up some manpower issues and we can kind of keep things equaled out across the state," Trooper Tony Richardson said.

In the meantime, boaters are urged to be extremely cautious. But many want a long term solution from state leaders.

"We had 11 drownings on the lake last year and several boating accidents," Beam said.

Many at Lake Eufaula like the idea of a lake patrol auxiliary with trained volunteers or hiring retired law enforcement officers during the peak season or on busy holiday weekends.