MARQUETTE - As the cold waves of Lake Superior finally begin to warm with the weather, local agencies are doing their best to ensure locals have ample opportunities to learn about water safety.
Individuals interested in furthering their water-based education can take either group or private lessons at Northern Michigan University this summer.
The courses are typically an hour-long and span eight sessions in two weeks. There is a place for swimmers of all skill levels - and ages.
Lexie L'Huillier swims with a “noodle” flotation device during swim lessons at the Wildcat Youth Camp held at Northern Michigan University Tuesday. Throughout the summer NMU, in conjunction with the American Red Cross, offers swim lessons and water safety courses. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
"It's not limited to just kids, though, and I think that's a major misconception among people," said Katie Theut, NMU's fitness and recreation manager.
Theut, who oversees the university's Physical Education and Instructional Facility, as well as the aquatic and fitness-related programs, thinks it is important to teach kids fundamental water skills at an early age.
"It's a lifelong skill," she said. "Being exposed to water is going to make kids more comfortable, and I believe they will make better decisions."
The lessons imparted in the PEIF pool are based on the 2011 American Red Cross Learn to Swim lessons.
"That programming is Red Cross programming. It is probably one of the leading programs in aquatic safety and has been for a very long time," said Renee Wyatt, the director of the Superior Upper Peninsula chapter of the American Red Cross.
It is clear that tragedies - like the four drownings in the city of Marquette last summer - will likely always occur in Michigan, a state with 3,288 miles of coastline. But Wyatt said local communities should use all available resources to prevent such occurrences.
"Some of the water issues we have in the state, we can't totally control, but within our own communities and our own families, it's better to be safe," she said.
Recently, the local community has stepped up water safety campaigns, installing warning flags at beaches. The National Weather Service now hosts a live rip current map on its website, as well.
But the final decision oftentimes still rests with the person stepping into the water.
"You can't control individuals and their actions," Wyatt said. "You can give them information, but that only goes so far."
Theut agreed, and added that it is vitally important to raise awareness of the specific dangers present on Lake Superior's shores. Even a strong swimmer can be in serious trouble if they aren't sure how to handle a strong rip current.
"(Awareness) is the most important component of the entire thing," Theut said. "We can put up all the signs we want to, but people still have to make educated decisions."
The cost for group lessons at NMU is $50 for PEIF members and $70 for non-members. For members, private lessons are $90 for six sessions, while semi-private lessons are $50. For non-members, private lessons are $100 for six sessions and semi-private lessons are $60.
Theut said anyone interested in joining a course should call 906-227-2519.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.