Camas OKs water-safety campaign two years after boy’s drowning death

Signs, educational outreach will focus on individual responsibility; city will work with school district to educate youth, families about water dangers

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Youth gather on the Lacamas Park Trail pedestrian bridge in August 2019, days before a 14-year-old Vancouver boy drowned in the stretch of water below. (Post-Record file photo)

Nearly two years after a teenager drowned in the narrow stretch of water between Camas’ Lacamas and Round lakes after jumping off the popular Lacamas Park Trail Bridge with a group of friends, city officials have approved a pilot project designed to prevent future drownings and emergencies in Camas-area lakes and swimming holes.

Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam presented the Camas City Council with an overview of the Warning and Education Signage pilot program at the Council’s Monday, June 7 workshop.

In August 2020, one year after 14-year-old Anthony Huynh’s death, the city council asked its Parks and Recreation Commission to come up with a recommendation that might prevent youth from using the Lacamas Park pedestrian bridge as a jumping platform.

At that time, city leaders were floating three main options: maintain the status quo and do nothing to prevent people from jumping off the pedestrian bridge; post general warning signs near the bridge; or install some sort of barrier — possibly a fence — along the Lacamas Park pedestrian bridge and remove a sidewalk on the nearby Northeast Everett Street bridge to physically prevent people from jumping into the narrow stretch of Lacamas Lake water.

Some city staff even recommended hiring a part-time “bridge monitor” to patrol the pedestrian bridge during the warmer months.

In the end, the city council passed the decision along to the Parks and Recreation Commission, saying they wanted Commission members’ input and more feedback from the community.

On Monday, Lam said she spoke to the Commission in April and there was consensus that the city should focus not just on the Lacamas Park pedestrian bridge.

“We wanted to broaden the scope a little and talk about water safety,” Lam said, “as it’s not just a single place that has these safety issues.”

In fact, Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey told city council members in 2019 that first responders had more emergency calls to the “Camas Potholes” near Round Lake, which people use as unofficial swimming holes, than they do to the span of water beneath the Lacamas Park bridge.

In the end, the Parks and Recreation Commission recommended placing educational signage near the city’s bodies of water.

“(We want to) create signage that provides a level of warning but not enforcement, to help users be aware and cautious recreating around bodies of water, and educational information on being safe around and in bodies of water,” Lam stated in her staff report to the city council.

City staff have been in contact with the Camas School District and hope to take their educational water-safety message directly to the youth who will be using Camas’ bodies of water this summer and in the future.

Lam said her research found it “is crucial” for local governments to not just rely on signage near bodies of water, but to have an educational outreach plan to reach youth at the right time.

“When you do this during a hot summer day, before school gets out, the kids hear it and see it and remember it,” Lam said. “Staff has also learned through conversations with other jurisdictions that signage alone does not change behavior. Best practice has been to have … signage along with a robust educational campaign.”

The city plans to place signs similar to the county’s water safety signs with messages like “Know the water. Know your limits. Wear a life jacket.” that have proven effective in other areas, near its bodies of water and by the Lacamas Park pedestrian bridge.

The city also will join forces with the school district to send educational materials to students and families toward the end of the school year, using fliers, email blasts and social media sites. In the fall, city staff will survey students and families to see how effective the educational campaign has been.

City staff also have reached out to the Clark County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol branch, and said the sheriff’s office plans to install a life jacket loaner station at the city of Camas’ boat launch off Leadbetter Road, on the north shore of Lacamas Lake.

“Hopefully, as the years go by, (thinking about water safety) will become more routine for families,” Lam said

Council member Bonnie Carter said she was really happy with the option the Parks and Recreation Commission and Lam had presented.

“I’m happy to hear there will be surveying to see how effective it was and to see if we get through to a small percentage (of youth),” Carter said, adding she agreed with Lam’s assessment regarding the water-safety signs that “too many words, too many signs and people tune it out real fast.”

Lam said the pilot project will include temporary signage and an education campaign throughout Camas, which will begin this summer, be evaluated in the fall and expand in 2022.

“We look forward to getting updates and positive results,” Camas Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Burton told Lam.