How to have safe fun out on the water this summer

Jet Quillen

Quillen patrolling Monroe Lake in Monroe County. (Credit: Indiana Department of Natural Resources)

As we enter summer, one Indiana state agency rises to center stage. The air is warm, the sky is blue and people are venturing into the great outdoors to take advantage of all that Indiana’s natural resources and beauty the state has to offer. 

With 142 navigable streams totaling 3,400 miles, Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will likely see an uptick in visitors to its properties and waterways. 

What’s happening

Holly Lawson, DNR communication director, said the agency has no way to track how many people use DNR waterways yearly, but according to research in the Statewide Community Outdoor Recreation Plan, “43% of people in Indiana say they recreationally paddle at least once a year.”

Monroe Lake, known for its serene campgrounds and extensive paddling and Tippecanoe River with its stunning, scenic views are just a couple of the popular options for Hoosiers to choose from.   

Lawson also said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a noticeable uptick in people enjoying Indiana’s waterways. “We’ve seen a large increase in people wanting to paddle on rivers and streams, and the biggest increase has been in kayaks. Their use has grown much more than canoes. During COVID lockdown, we saw a huge increase in all outdoor recreation activities.” 

Captain Jet Quillen
Captain Jet Quillen (Credit: Indiana Department of Natural Resources)

Jet Quillen, captain in charge of public relations for the law enforcement division (LED) of Indiana’s DNR, concurred, saying, “During the pandemic, we did see an increase in the use of our state properties and waterways due to people wanting to get outdoors.” Quillen said they also saw an increase in hunting and fishing license sales.

And the state legislature has caught on, with massive amounts of money being poured into Indiana’s state parks in the most recent two-year budget passed by the General Assembly, and projects like Origin State Park and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Trails project, which is investing an additional $30 million in the projects fourth phase. 

Why it matters 

With an uptick in visitors during the pandemic, Indiana’s DNR is still seeing slightly more people venturing outside, with outdoor events and activities. But the DNR continues to stress how important it is for Hoosiers to look out for themselves and others out on the water, especially with what appears to be an uptick in drownings in recent years. While there is no specific data available for 2023, there have been several high-profile drownings the past few weeks, including a pregnant woman. According to the DNR, Indiana waterways saw 60 drowning deaths in 2020 and 50 in 2021. Typically, around 50 people drown each year in Indiana waters, although in the mid 2010s, there were several years with drowning deaths reported in the mid 30s and low 40s.

With more people venturing out into the water, Quillen stressed the importance of boater and swimmer safety, and discussed some ways in which the LED is working to keep Hoosiers safe outside. “Obviously, these numbers are unpredictable, and many factors come into play,” he said. 

In an effort to broaden its applicant pool, Quillen said that in 2021, the LED changed its education requirements for becoming a conservation officer, dropping the need for a college degree, instead looking at work history and a person’s general interest in the outdoors and natural resources. The agency wanted to attract “well-suited and qualified candidates for hire that may not have had the opportunity to attend college,” said Quillen.  

Quillen said the DNR has hired 38 new conservation officers in the last two hiring cycles since dropping the education requirement in 2021. The new officers will provide assistance across the state protecting the natural landscape, providing public safety and assistance to citizens, and hosting and participating in DNR-sponsored events.

Tips to live by

Quillen offered some safety tips for those looking to venture out to Indiana waterways: 

  • Discuss the dangers of water with your family and loved ones before going out.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Go with a buddy.
  • Do not venture around flooded or fast-moving waterways.
  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Keep an extra watchful eye on children.
  • Avoid alcohol.

The DNR also has a free app that offers maps of state parks, recreation details, event information, safety alerts and more.

Tommy Pierce is editorial assistant for State Affairs Pro Indiana. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Tom_state_aff.

Header Image: Jet Quillen, captain in charge of public relations for the law enforcement division of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, patrols Monroe Lake in Monroe County. (Credit: Indiana Department of Natural Resources)

Related Topics: