When it comes to safety at Ute Lake in Logan, Park Manager Rodney Paris said flooding the water and banks with security personnel is the best way to prevent problems.
“We try to use visibility as a deterrent, whether it is boat patrol or land patrol,” Paris said. The Ute Lake staff consists of seven full time and four seasonal members in addition to four law enforcement agents, Paris said. Paris recently added a person assigned strictly to boat safety, a position that was previously unfilled. He is also in the process of adding another staff member. On Memorial Day, one of the lake’s busiest weekends, there were two incidents with injuries.
In one incident, a boat struck and toppled another boat owned by family members. Minor injuries were sustained to the people in the bottom boat, Paris said, and the boat sank and still has not been recovered. The other incident involved a juvenile on a Jet Ski who “t-boned” a boat that wasn’t moving. Paris said the female was ejected from the watercraft and injured and the boat suffered several thousand dollars worth of damage. “Everybody comes to the lake with good intentions,” Paris said. “But accidents do happen.”
The most common accident, Paris said, involves personal watercrafts striking boats. He said there is no specific area at the lake where a majority of accidents occur, but accidents happen wherever the most congested areas are on a given day. While routine boating and watercraft accidents are not unusual, Paris said drownings tend to come in waves. In a two-month period late in the summer of 2003, there were three drownings. Two Portales men drowned in August 2003 when their boat ran aground on a sandbar and they attempted to swim to shore. A month earlier, a man who could not swim walked in the lake and drowned, state police said. “Before last year we hadn’t had a drowning in a year and a half,” Paris said. “It goes in spurts.”
Paris said alcohol does not play a significant part in the majority of accidents. “We don’t have a huge number of alcohol-related crashes but it is something we need to investigate all the time,” he said. New Mexico State Parks officials have taken a proactive approach to boat safety. Dozens of eight-hour classes are offered around the state at no charge. Paris said the classes cover all aspects of boating including maintenance, navigation and understanding of buoy markers.
At Ute Lake, Park Administrator Tara Carter passes out free basic boating books to visitors and coordinates a lifejacket loaner program for kids. Carter said she also distributes lake maps so when a person calls with an emergency they can describe where they are and safety patrols can locate them quickly. Carter describes Ute Lake as “very safe” overall and said of all age groups, teenagers cause the most problems. “They tend to if they are not educated, but if you just give them a little bit of information, generally they will listen to you,” Carter said.
With lakes around New Mexico and neighboring states drying up, especially at nearby Conchas Lake, crowds are flocking to Ute. Paris said despite an increase in visitors, accident cases have remained steady. Carter said she sees visitors from Utah, Colorado, Texas and Kansas, but out-of-town boaters do not cause more problems because they are often repeat visitors. Paris said the key to safety at Ute is getting visitors educated about the buoys and layout of the lake. While offering classes is helpful, he encourages people seek out knowledge and take the time to learn about safety. “We actually need people to take a proactive approach for their own safety,” he said. “We need them to get educated.”