Rice County’s bounty of lakes and two major rivers makes water safety especially important.
“We want people to be safe and we want to prevent drownings,” said Sgt. Nathan Budin, of the Rice County Sheriff’s Office.
All Minnesota sheriff’s offices are responsible for safety on their county’s waterways. Budin oversees the Rice County’s Water Patrol unit. Five non-licensed deputies work weekends and holidays from about Memorial Day to Labor Day. The patrol does a bit of everything: sets buoys, works with the lakes associations and educates boaters about water safety.
Water safety, Budin says, starts with always wearing a life jacket while in a watercraft.
Of the 18 boating fatalities in Minnesota in 2021, only two were wearing life jackets, according to Department of Natural Resources figures. Last year, Minnesota recorded 53 non-boating drownings and 69 non-fatal boating accidents.
Members of the Water Patrol can be found on many of the county’s lakes, 12 of which have public access.
Budin says the deputies will stop boaters and jet ski operators and check to see that they’re old enough to operate the watercraft, have proper registration and the required number of life jackets. If the craft meets certain criteria, a fire extinguisher must be on board and readily available.
While they’re not needed often, licensed deputies are available to issue citations or make arrests for those behaving dangerously or illegally.
Just like in a motor vehicle, operating a watercraft with a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher is illegal. According to the DNR, alcohol is the No. 1 factor in boating fatalities.
The patrol has a small fleet of watercraft at its disposal. There are two jet skis and five boats, including one that’s primarily for rivers and can move without difficulty in extremely shallow water and run over debris and rocks.
Funding for the patrol and its equipment comes from several different sources: the county budget as well as state and federal grants. The Water Patrol works closely with the Sheriff’s Office’s Dive Team. Both respond to reported drownings and crashes in the water.
The unit also works out of the water. Deputies host camps and other events to teach water safety, inspect all rental watercraft and life jackets to assure those renting the equipment that it’s been given an annual checkup, and issue permits for anything apart from docks that’s anchored in the water: floating rafts, and slalom courses and for fishing tournaments.
Boater/operator education remains paramount. Because boating and the use of personal watercraft in Minnesota is seasonal, the rules and regulations that go along with their use tend to be less ingrained than for motor vehicle drivers, says Budin. And, without signs and road markings to act as a guide, it’s easy to err.
“Recreational activities are fun and we want people to have fun,” said Budin, “but it’s not fun if they’re getting injured and possibly drowning.”
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The Lonsdale Public Library summer reading program is officially underway. This year’s theme and activities center around nature, the outdoors and conservation.
The summer reading program is a yearly event that encourages children of Lonsdale to keep their minds active while school is not in session. Numerous studies have highlighted the benefit of summer reading, which can prevent kids from falling behind over the summer.
Over the course of the six-week event, kids receive a free book after signing up, make crafts, participate in group events and learn about the environment’s pressing issues, such as the importance of pollination. There are weekly events and special events, like the Kickoff Cookout at Sticha Park.
The overall theme this year is, “Read beyond the beaten path,” which encourages kids to get outside and learn about the impact people can have on our ecosystems. Each week of the event has a different theme, which coincides with the various crafts, discussions and activities.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the reading program attracted over 300 kids most years. In 2016, the program set its record high, with 311 kids who signed up for the program.
However, when the pandemic began, those numbers saw a significant decline. In an effort to limit person-to-person contact, the library put together take-home packs with tools and materials to do the crafts and other activities in their homes.
In 2020, 158 kids signed up for the program. In 2021, the number began to rise back to pre-pandemic levels, with 255 kids signed up.
This year, only a week has passed, and the program has already had 188 kids sign up, with 89 of those joining at the Kickoff Cookout. Library Director Marguerite Moran expressed her enthusiasm for this year’s newest activity: the Coding Club.
“I’m very fortunate to have had a local community member with that skillset who reached out and offered to teach the program,” she said. “It was like a miracle to have her reach out to me directly.”
The Coding Club is a weekly event, which takes place every Thursday at 2 p.m. in the library. Liz Hill is a local teacher who has experience with Python and whose kids participate in the summer reading program.
Hill said that learning code is important, and she was happy to help teach her skills to the local youth. She emphasized that being able to read and understand code can be very helpful for developing children.
“I actually think of code as another form of literacy,” she said.
Some of the special events at the library include an escape room and even a demonstration with a live eagle. In accordance with these events, the library is always open to volunteers who want to help out with setup and supervision.
Moran feels very grateful to be back in the library this year for in-person events. She feels that the real success of the program is measured by getting kids to exercise their brains in fun ways.
“We hope to get kids reading and learning without even realizing it because they’re having so much fun,” she said. “We just have fun here.”