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Hagg Lake visitors must be warned of danger

Unimaginable. Standing at the edge of Hagg Lake near Gaston, the setting is so peaceful and so calm it is all but impossible to understand how four precious members of a Hillsboro family could perish during a casual outing at the lake.

Yet the lake’s peacefulness is part of the problem, because many visitors to the recreational area simply do not realize — and in fact really have no way to realize — that the lake can be treacherous, with steep and dramatic dropoffs hidden by the water. A deep, muddy channel has been cut where Sain Creek enters Hagg Lake, and at certain points, you can go from ankle-deep to water over your head in just one awful step.

On Monday, Aug. 25, Jova Ixtacua-Castano, 42; Gabriela Garcia-Ixtacua, 25; Michael Garcia-Ixtacua, 13; and Jeremy Scholl, 3, were visiting the Sain Creek Picnic Area at Hagg Lake. We can only speculate as to what transpired, because there were no witnesses. Yet it’s logical to surmise that one or both of the young boys waded out into the lake and came to a hidden dropoff, fell and went under. At that point, perhaps the adults ran out to help them and also slipped and went under.

This is a tragedy that never should have happened.

Signs need to be posted around the lake — without delay — to warn people about these dropoffs. Those coming to Hagg Lake from McMinnville or Portland or Newberg may not have heard of the lake’s dangers and its troubled history. Many others have drowned in the lake. In fact, since 1980, 11 lives have been lost just at Hagg Lake’s Sain Creek Picnic Area. Eleven.

Visitors need to be made aware how deep and treacherous the channels are there, but nowhere are there any signs to alert people of the danger.

It’s very easy to see why no one would worry about their kids wading in shallow waters. Most people wouldn’t even think of asking them to wear life jackets — unless they knew what was hidden under the surface.

We’ve seen dramatic photographs of the dropoffs taken at times the water level was very low. These are deep, vertical drops — not just a step or two down. There is not even a slope, just one step over and down you go.

In 2009, Kyle Giesbers — an Eagle Scout from Boy Scout Troop 855 in Hillsboro — showed great initiative and made it his project to build a kiosk near the Sain Creek parking lot where free life jackets are left for visitors to the Hagg Lake Recreation Area to wear at no charge. Giesbers’ effort was impressive and noble, and it may well have saved some lives.

But there also need to be clear warnings about the severe dropoffs. The jurisdictions managing the facility need to swiftly step forward and post danger signs, in English and Spanish, and those collecting fees at the park’s entrance should warn visitors about dropoffs. Further, we strongly recommend that in addition to warning signs along the shore, photos of the dropoffs should be posted as well. It tells the tale in a way people will immediately understand.

We are disappointed at the initial reaction from officials who are in a positon to take action. The situation may be complicated due to several jurisdictions being involved: The Tualatin Valley Irrigation District manages the lake. Washington County manages the park around the lake. And the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns the lake and the park.

None of that should matter. Bureaucratic questions of responsibility shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of giving people information that could save their lives. For now, just get some warning signs up. It doesn’t matter if they are made of cardboard or sheets of paper tacked to trees. The official, nicely-crafted signs can come later.

Lives are at stake here. This initiative cannot wait.



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