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July 5, 2011

Park rangers and conservation wardens arrived on scene quickly but unable to save young victim

Summer holiday weekends are special times. They give us a chance to slow down, spend time with family and friends, to recreate or work in the yard or just relax. They give us a moment to think and reflect and perhaps explore new places. They are meant to be fun and for most of us they are, but for some families, they can be frightening and sorrowful.

The events of July 2 at Devil's Lake State Park, where a young man lost his life in a drowning accident, underscore how quickly innocent fun can turn to tragedy. None of us at the Department of Natural Resources can possibly feel the loss the family and friends of this teenager must be experiencing. But I do want to express our sympathy on behalf of all DNR employees and especially the staff of Devil's Lake.

Sadly, events of this kind or those involving serious injury have happened before in other areas of the state this season and I would like to extend my condolences to all affected families and friends.

I was at Devil's Lake just last weekend, celebrating the park's 100th anniversary. I have met the staff and know how proud they are of their park and of the efforts they take to make sure visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience.

While all park and forest staff have visitor safety at the very top of their priorities, our rangers and conservation wardens are at the point of that effort. They are often the first responders to accidents and mishaps and often perform life saving actions while alone and isolated and waiting for help to arrive.

But sometimes even these dedicated efforts are not enough to avert tragedy, as was the case at Devil's Lake last weekend. The park was fully staffed and even had the benefit of two additional conservation wardens patrolling the lake in their boat. Events that day transpired too quickly for staff to respond in time to save a life. Arriving on the scene just a short time after the swimmer disappeared under water, wardens and bystanders were able to locate the victim and began CPR until EMS crews from Baraboo arrived. But even their advanced lifesaving skills were not enough.

Many times it is also the sad duty of rangers and wardens to inform families of loss of a loved one.

In the coming weeks we will conduct an after action assessment of the circumstances surrounding this event in the hope that we may learn something that might prevent this kind of incident from repeating itself. In the meantime I want to thank Devil's Lake staff and the responding wardens for their professionalism and empathy and invite all citizens to continue to enjoy Wisconsin's state parks and forests and public lands. They are, after all, your lands.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Manwell, DNR spokesman, (608) 264-9248

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 05, 2011

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