Experts offer water safety tips for people enjoying Kansas, Missouri lakes and rivers

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — As the weather heats up, more people are heading to the lake to cool off, and officials from the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District want visitors to make safety a top priority this summer.

Seth Salmans, with Johnson County Park Police, said extreme heat and dehydration can take a toll on your health.

“Being out in the sun, it can creep up on you. That water acts like a mirror and reflects right back up on you. You sunburn way faster. The heat will drain you a lot quicker and you’ll be sweating pretty significantly,” Salmans said. 

Salmans said since the COVID outbreak began last year, county parks have seen a steady increase in visitors. 

“We’ve seen tremendous increases in our kayak usage, our paddle boards. Personal watercrafts in general have dramatically increased,” Salmans said.

With more people spending their free time out on the water, Salmans said visitors should follow three basic rules. Stay alert, stay hydrated and wear a lifejacket at all times. 

“No matter what you’re doing on the water, you need to have a lifejacket,” Salmans said.  

Lifejackets are required for park visitors wanting to spend time on the water. Salmans said parents should use their child’s weight to determine what size lifejacket they will need. For very young children, look for a lifejacket with a headrest on the back to help keep their head out of the water. 

“Weight is really the big decider for young children. They typically have a range of weight that they will fit,” Salmans said. “With really young kids, you’ll have something that typically has a strap that goes between the legs and up that helps prevent the lifejacket from coming up over the shoulders, which would make it very ineffective.”

Jackson County recently received a grant to install a boat cleaning station. It’s free to use, has a vacuum and other tools to clean off boats, kayaks and canoes. Salmans said the goal is to prevent the spread of microscopic zebra mussels and other invasive species.

“Trying to fight the spread of invasive species is huge. There are a number of lakes in the area that have had zebra mussels,” Salmans said. “What they do is they filter out most of the nutrients in the water. It will look really pretty, and you’ll be able to see 20 feet down, but when there’s no nutrients in the water, nothing can live there.” 

Jessica Hall spent Friday morning paddle boarding around the lake, then used the new station to clean off her board.  

“It’s supposed to help keep soil from different places going to other parks. It also helps the environment and keeps my car cleaner,” Hall said. 

JCPRD requires a separate permit for visitors using boats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards on county park property.  Permits can be purchased at Shawnee Mission Park Visitors Center or online through the JCPRD website.

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