Lifeguards ready to spend summer watching at Steel Lake


The Mirror

The aquatics coordinator for the city of Federal Way is trained to recognize dangerous activity.

But Craig Feldman also knows fun when he sees it. He’s expecting big crowds this summer at the Steel Lake Park beach, which opens for public swimming this Saturday.

The beach has lifeguards, a rarity in south King County and the only one in Federal Way. It will be open for swimming from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday though Thursday, 1 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.

Clean sand and clear water are the main attractions, and this summer the water level is unusually high –– 18 feet to the bottom at the swimming area’s deepest point. Feldman isn’t convinced it will stay that way, thanks to shifting sand. But the lake’s head guard is sure of one thing: The importance of water safety.

“It’s a very good swimming beach and has a gradual drop-off,” Feldman said. “But there were times last summer when we had over 200 people in the water and another 100 on the dock or beach. Even six lifeguards can’t see everything.”

Feldman, who also looks after Federal Way’s Kenneth Jones Swimming Pool, has hired eight summer lifeguards and a number of substitutes. He says they to be kid-friendly, but they aren’t there to make friends.

“When you have 200 people out there, you are always looking for abnormal behavior, and that takes up most of your time,” Feldman said. “We’re very conscientious and sometimes don’t make the public happy because we enforce our rules. Our people are well-trained.”

But Steel Lake Park’s beach did have an accident last year. Lifeguards had to haul out a young swimmer who was submerged. Feldman wouldn’t go into further detail concerning the accident but cited a number of recent drownings in western Washington to highlight the need for adult supervision.

“You just can’t turn your back on small children in the water,” he said. “They do strange things at strange times.”

The lifeguards at Steel Lake do their best to educate kids before they hit the water, and summer swim lessons offered by the city start June 27. On the other hand, young children aren’t the only swimmers at risk. In fact, Feldman warned that the bulk of rescues nationwide are of males between the ages of 14 and 24.

“You’ve got to know your limits, what you can and can’t do,” he said. “Young men try to extend their abilities and don’t respect the water. It’s just like driving cars at high speeds. They don’t believe an accident can happen to them.”

Feldman said parents should ask questions before sending their children out to swim. They should know whether the beach has lifeguards, the water’s depth and how to exit the water, he said.

There’s plenty to do at Steel Lake Park. There are outdoor concerts on Wednesday nights, a kayaking club on weekends and the Reebok Triathlon on Sept. 10. According to Feldman, between picnics, receptions and day camps, the beach is booked solid all summer long.

“It’s a well-used park,” he said. “On weekends, we sometimes have to close the gates when we reach capacity. People come out to swim even when it’s raining.”

News intern Dan Beekman: 925-5565,

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