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State Offers Safety Tips For Westport Swimmers, Hikers

Swimmers frolic in the water of Long Island Sound. To stay safe in the water, and on the hiking trail, follow simple rules offered by Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Swimmers frolic in the water of Long Island Sound. To stay safe in the water, and on the hiking trail, follow simple rules offered by Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Photo Credit: File

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Summertime, and the great outdoors is calling, says Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

With 109 state parks and 32 state forests, there are plenty of places for visitors and families to swim, hike, boat, fish, picnic, or simply soak up the peace and quiet, DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee says.

All it takes to keep these experiences from turning tragic, DEEP says, is to observe the posted safety rules, and employ some common sense.

Safe Swimming DEEP offers 23 designated state park swim areas – four on Long Island Sound and 19 inland lakes and ponds. There are also many municipal swimming areas throughout the state.

The following safety tips should be observed by those headed to the beach, DEEP says:

  • SWIM in designated areas. These areas offer certain layers of protection.from ensuring water quality, to identifying a 5-foot water depth, to protecting swimmers from boating traffic, and to oversight by trained lifeguards.
  • NEVER dive in head first. The natural beauty of these swimming areas extends under the water. Unlike the smooth level bottom of swimming pools, lakes/ponds and the Long Island Sound have uneven bottoms, with potential drop-offs, sandbars, in-shore holes, and boulders.
  • WATCH your kids. It only takes seconds for a child to drown. When children are playing in the water, the safest spot for a parent or guardian to be is within arm's reach.
  • DON'T drink and swim. Alcohol has been a contributing factor in 13 of the 16 drowning deaths that lifeguards have responded to at state parks within the last decade, DEEP says. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to poor decision-making, coordination, and reaction time.

If beaches aren’t your thing, the state’s woodlands and other wild places offer more than 825 miles of marked hiking trails. The trails, marked by blue rectangular blazes are open year-round, unless otherwise posted.

Have the proper equipment and prepare for the inevitable before you hit the trail, DEEP says.

These are safety tips for hikers:

  • DRESS appropriately, in layers, and be prepared for sudden changes in weather. Clothing-wise, it’s best to avoid cotton and go for a fabric that wicks away moisture. Carry a lightweight rain jacket and backpack and invest in good socks and sturdy hiking shoes or boots.
  • AVOID hiking alone. If you must, pick a well-used trail and tell someone where you’ll be and when you plan to return.
  • STAY on the trail. It’s easier to get lost if you take shortcuts or bushwhack – and it can harm the environment by increasing erosion.
  • NEVER climb on waterfalls or try to cross streams above waterfalls. Deaths and injuries have happened, DEEP says.
  • NEVER assume stream water is safe to drink. Carry plenty of drinking water.
  • DON'T count on cell phones to work if you’re lost. If they do work, be prepared to provide details of your location and stay put until help arrives.
  • CARRY a First Aid Kit, personal medications and a small flashlight.

Lastly, have fun.

This year -- for the first time -- Connecticut State Parks is sponsoring the “Sky’s the Limit” 2015 challenge designed to promote hiking, Klee says. Those who hike 10 designated spots will receive medallions. And on Jan. 1, 2016, names will be drawn from among those who completed 14 designated hikes. Fifty winners will receive a hand-carved hiking staff.

To learn more about the friendly competition, go to www.ct.gov/deep/skysthelimit.

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