Busy Labor Day weekend expected at Iowa state parks, campgrounds

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July 4, 2020, saw large crowds at Iowa's Great Lakes, and similar crowds are expected for the Labor Day weekend. Photo by David Thoreson

DES MOINES, Iowa — This weekend’s unofficial end to summer is expected to draw thousands of Iowans to state parks and waterways, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends a host of safety measures in order to make Labor Day safe and enjoyable for Iowans.

The weekend weather forecast looks favorable for all outdoor activities, and Iowa’s minimal COVID-19-related restrictions on outdoor activities .

Boaters headed out to a lake, river, pond or any other waterway should adhere to the following safety tips:

  • Plan ahead, and avoid peak hours and large crowds of boating.
  • Park your vehicles and trailers in designated parking spaces and not in grass areas, or they will be ticketed and towed.
  • Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Wind, sun glare and heat can enhance the effects of alcohol, hindering the operator’s ability to make necessary decisions.
  • The same limit of .08 for operating a vehicle under the influence applies to boating.
  • Always have a designated operator who avoids consuming alcohol.
  • Wear your life jacket. It floats, but you don’t! Any children 12 and under must wear a lifejacket at all times on a vessel underway in Iowa.
  • Every boat or vessel must have a wearable life jacket for everyone on board. A USCG-approved throwable flotation device is also required on vessels 16’ or longer.
  • Make sure there is a charged fire extinguisher on board as well as a horn or whistle.
  • Slow down and watch for other boaters or personal watercraft. Have patience.
  • Avoid dams and other hazards on waterways.
  • Obey all posted warning signs and rules.
  • Drain plugs and other water draining devices must be removed and/or remain open during transport to avoid spreading of invasive species.

For more information, contact Susan Stocker, DNR boating law administrator and education coordinator at 515-313-6439 or Susan.Stocker@dnr.iowa.gov.

When it comes to beaches and swimming safety, wherever you choose to swim this Labor Day weekend, whether it’s a backyard pool, a pond or lake, or a public pool, please follow these safety tips:

  • Remember to keep young children at arm’s reach at all times. Arm’s-reach supervision means your child is no more than an arm’s reach at all times. Never, even for a moment, leave small children alone or in the care of another young child while swimming.
  • Drowning is silent.
  • Take swimming lessons ahead of time to learn to swim.
  • Learn how to perform CPR.
  • Avoid alcohol use while swimming.
  • Alcohol is prohibited at some public beaches.
  • Glass bottles are prohibited on beaches.
  • Stay within the roped in area of the lake.
  • Swim with a buddy.
  • Obey posted signs and flags.
  • Wear a life jacket or some kind of personal flotation device if needed.
  • Use sunscreen and drink plenty of water as needed.

Iowa’s public beaches do not have lifeguards on duty. Because the beaches are busier this summer, staff are encouraging visitors to use the non-peak times and days.

For the busier beaches/parks, the non-peak days usually include Sundays through Thursdays, and Fridays before 5 p.m. If you plan to go to the beaches on Saturdays, the non-peak hours are usually before noon.

Parks staff may temporarily close parking lots when they become full and limit the number of visitors at that point. The DNR recommends visitors go to another nearby park or beach that is not as heavily populated. Visitors are reminded to only park in designated parking spaces. All violators will be cited by staff.

This weekend will be another very busy one if you plan to visit a state park and campground. Use these safety tips to ensure an enjoyable time:

  • Pack snacks, food, water and personal hygiene products, including hand sanitizer, to bring along for hiking and using the state parks.
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of fluids.
  • Don’t hike alone and always have some way to communicate if you get lost and need help.
  • Wear proper outdoor attire for hiking.
  • Plan ahead for your visit to our parks and campgrounds. If a parking lot becomes full at a park or campground, staff may temporarily close the parking lots and limit the number of visitors at that point.
  • If there is no parking available, do not park in the grass areas or any other area that is not a designated parking spot. All violators will be cited.
  • Use the parks during non-peak times, which often include mornings and evenings.
  • If a park is heavily populated, find another nearby state park that is less populated.
  • Don’t transport firewood. Buy it locally.
  • Be respectful of your neighbors camping around you.
  • Slow down on park roadways, and obey posted speed limit signs. Families and kids are often walking or biking on the roads!
  • “Carry in. Carry out.” Please pick up any trash, and carry out what you carry into the park.
  • Be respectful, and care for our natural resources.
  • Campers should dispose of trash in receptacles and not burn it in campfires.
  • Check the DNR website for all of the latest closures.

If you plan to fish, be sure to have a current fishing license. You can purchase one by visiting: com, or by downloading the Go Outdoors Iowa app on your smartphone through the Google Play store or the App Store. You can also purchase your fishing license at some local retailers in your area.