Douglas County exploring addition of signs at Lone Star Lake to warn swimmers of quick depth increase

Two drownings this summer at Lone Star Lake have prompted Douglas County to pursue adding signs that would warn swimmers the depth of the lake can increase quickly.

But Keith Browning, director of the public works department, said his office doesn’t plan to seek significant changes to the county-owned lake’s swimming regulations. The county undertook a review of regulations at the lake after James Nichols Owens, 30, of Tonganoxie, drowned Aug. 13 while swimming at Lone Star, and a 7-year-old Kansas City, Mo., boy, Osiris M. Lumanyika, drowned July 2 near the swimming dock.

“It is not clear that additional regulations would have prevented the two tragic drowning accidents at Lone Star Lake this summer,” Browning said. “Lone Star Lake has existed since the 1930s with very few drowning incidents over the life of the lake. It has a good safety record.

“Implementing regulations that may severely limit swimming would greatly affect the lake experience many people now safely enjoy, perhaps without alleviating the risk of another tragic accident.”

The lake, which is about 12 miles southwest of Lawrence, has never had lifeguards, and Browning said the two recent drownings are the fifth and sixth that workers in his department can recall in the lake’s history. This summer’s drownings were the first in many years.

The department is also asking Douglas County commissioners to prohibit swimming beneath the swimming dock because Browning said it can be dangerous, especially for children.

Sheriff’s officers and park maintenance personnel patrol the lake periodically.

“We are pursuing getting other signs up there to let people know that the water does deepen fairly quickly there,” Browning said.

Commissioners will consider several changes to regulations at the lake and campground as part of their meeting at 4 p.m. today at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass. Two other major proposed regulation changes include prohibiting shooting fireworks in the lake’s park. Currently it’s allowed on days surrounding the Fourth of July, but Browning said the county spends significant time and money monitoring and cleaning up fireworks each year. Campsite fees would also increase $4 a day to $11 for a site without electricity and to $16 for one with electricity.