The drownings have all occurred along Lincoln Beach, a wide stretch of sand that attracts families to its seemingly calm water.
But looks are deceiving. This also happens to be the most dangerous stretch of water within the Metro West Fire Protection District, said Michael Thiemann, coordinator of emergency management for the district. While the river in front of the beach has a smooth bottom, conditions quickly change just downstream.
"Once you get past a certain point, a drop-off occurs," Thiemann said. "As the water goes over the ledge, it begins to tumble, pushes and has an undertow. People will get stuck in that area. It scares them; they take a deep breath, and it's the last breath they take."
Metro West, the Missouri State Water Patrol and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which manages the park, caution visitors to stay out of the river, Thiemann said. The organizations have worked together to place "shock banners" along the beach reading: "Deadly River: People Drown Here! Don't Be the Next One."
Despite the warning signs and news reports of the actual drownings that have occurred, people continue to wade and swim along Lincoln Beach. In fact, it's an activity that's protected by law -- one cannot "close" a navigable waterway. Swimming is even an activity that is advertised on the state park's website.
Two adolescent boys nearly drowned at Castlewood on June 26, according to reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They were rescued by three teens who heard their cries for help. The very next day, a handful of people were enjoying the beach -- and several people were in the water.
What should the state do with a deadly river and beach, particularly when the very message emergency responders are sharing -- stay out of the water -- lacks legal teeth? The state should hire open water lifeguards to guard this deadly section of river.
Two lifeguards stationed at Lincoln Beach from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend would cost the state about $35,000, according to Renee Jeep, vice president of Lifeguards Unlimited, a company that provides lifeguard management services to several area pools.
Beach user fees could defray the cost of lifeguards, just like they do at Thousand Hills State Park, the only Missouri State Park that provides a lifeguarded swimming area for park users.
"I think there should be lifeguards any place the general public is invited to swim," said Stephe McCormick, an open water lifeguard and director of Backyard Lifeguards. "Lifeguards are agents of both safety and education. They are trained to recognize distress at the earliest sign and to respond promptly, both of which increase a drowning swimmer's chances for a positive outcome."
And lifeguards don't just pull distressed swimmers out of water. They also warn of hazards, McCormick said. At Castlewood, for example, lifeguards could designate a swimming area -- one that is well away from the known drop-off in the river. They could also request nonswimmers wear personal flotation devices, and they could close the beach when conditions warrant it.
"It's in the warning that people learn the dangers of their own behavior and the water site," McCormick said.
It's true that you can't lifeguard the entire Meramec River nor would you want to -- the river is natural, wild and a solitary haven for paddlers and boaters. But right at Lincoln Beach, the area with the deadliest history, a lifeguard is a practical solution to prevent further loss of life and educate visitors about river safety.
How many more will die here before the state takes further action?From the calendar