As travelers head to Raystown Lake, local agencies collaborate on safety

HUNTINGDON – Up to a dozen or more boaters at Raystown Lake could find their Independence Day weekend festivities ending with restraints.

A big crowd is expected at the Army Corps of Engineers lake this holiday weekend with sunny skies forecast, and authorities will be on the lookout for problems, including boating under the influence.

“If the weather is nice, and I believe it is forecasted to be nice this weekend, then we will again see full and overcrowded facilities,” said Park Ranger Allen Gwinn.

“Our staff tries to be available for these types of things, but our staff does not increase with the increase in visitors for the holidays. That is why we ask visitors to be patient getting where they are going, be understanding with others trying to do the same thing and be compliant with our rules.”

Capt. Alan Robinson of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission said the agency will employ additional safety measures for the upcoming holiday weekend. “We’ll be running some specialized details; we’ll bring in additional officers and beef up the manpower. We partner up with wildlife conservation officers with the Game Commission; they have some troopers on our boats. We’ll be partnering with the Corps of Engineers folks, as well.

“The (Huntingdon County) Sheriff’s Office is also a huge asset out at Raystown with their shoreline patrols.”

The PFBC enforces boating under the influence charges at Raystown.

“BUIs out there are somewhat weather dependent, so Fourth of July weekend, where the weather is hot and conducive to a lot of recreational boat traffic, we’ll handle anywhere from probably six to a dozen or more, just for that specific weekend. We’ve been averaging about 23 to 24 a season on Raystown over the last five years,” Robinson said.

“The vast majority of the users out there are very responsible, safety-conscious people. It’s just a small minority of individuals that like to behave irresponsibly that get 95 percent of our attention.”

The PFBC will have three to four patrol boats on the water each day this weekend. Individuals suspected of operating a watercraft under the influence are subject to field sobriety tests and can receive charges similar to driving a motor vehicle under the influence.

According to its website, the PFBC also enforces such laws as public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and underage drinking for both operators and passengers aboard watercraft.

“The BUI law is pretty much analogous to the vehicle code’s DUI law,” Robinson said. “It’s a 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration threshold, and then it is three-tiered insofar as the level of the offenses.”

However, laws differ when it comes to the act of consuming alcohol while aboard watercraft.

“The operator could consume alcohol; they would have to do it in a very responsible manner,” Robinson said. “Unlike a motor vehicle, there’s no open container prohibition on a boat. On the facility out there, insofar as the shoreline or the lake, alcohol is not prohibited, but our expectation is that all the boat operators remain physically capable of operating the boat, which means they need to be sober.”

As the water depths reach 65 to 200 feet at certain points, visitors’ safety can never be guaranteed.

About two weeks ago, Dustin Scott Weyandt, 23, of Duncansville suffocated in water at Raystown while trying to swim across a cove. Upon being spotted by the Markelsburg Fire Department’s submersible remote-operated vehicle’s camera, the victim’s corpse was recovered by divers about 8:40 p.m. on June 16.

“It didn’t change what we’re already doing,” Gwinn said. “We work very hard with our partners, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, as well as our emergency responders in trying to get people to be conscious of those danger zones.

“Most of the lake is swim at your own risk. This particular incident occurred outside of one of the designated swim areas, which is not a prohibited area. You’re certainly allowed to swim there, but there’s more risks and more opportunity for problems.”

According to Lt. Jeffrey Leonard of the Huntingdon County Sheriff’s Office, additional hours will be added to enforcement schedules throughout the holiday weekend.

“We’ll be strictly enforcing the DUI law, aggressive driving, careless driving and also speeding issues. We’ll also be enforcing seat belts,” Leonard said. “Don’t drink and drive, and obey the rules of the highway.”

While all 262 campsites at Seven Points have already been booked in advance, Raystown will have 50 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis at Nancy’s Campground, a boat-to-shore site that does not accept reservations.

Mike Staz, a resident of Lewisberry who regularly frequents the lake, said last year’s Fourth of July festivities at Raystown were busy.

“It was handled decently well,” he said. “I could see problems occurring when leaving, though. It was a mad rush and basically a traffic jam with boats when the fireworks were over. Keeping a boat still isn’t the easiest thing. Other than that, it was a great time.”