Signs warn swimmers of Hagg Lake’s deadly drop-offs

The four signs state “WARNING” and “Sudden drop offs”

Four large signs, posted in highly visible spots at Hagg Lakes Sain Creek Picnic Area and Boat Ramp C, give this clear warning - at least to English speakers - of the deadly drop-offs hidden under the water. Two of them also offer free loaner life jackets. September 27, 2016, (Tacey Smith)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Washington County officials have added clearer warning signs to both the Sain Creek Picnic Area and Boat Ramp C at Hagg Lake.

The four signs state “WARNING” and “Sudden drop offs” with a clear drawing of someone falling over a drop-off in the water.

Those three ingredients were missing from the county’s previous signs, which simply featured a life vest and the words “Wear It” (“Uselo”) but no explanation of why non-swimmers should wear a life vest even if they’re just planning to wade in shallow water.

The floor of Hagg Lake drops off suddenly in certain spots, including the popular Sain Creek swimming area, due to underwater cliffs of 10 to 15 feet. People who have no experience in lakes with drop-offs expect the ground to continue its gradual downward slope and are surprised when they step from relatively shallow water to over-their-heads.

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An iPhone video taken by one of four family members who drowned together at Sain Creek in August 2014 shows her children and grandson playing “in shallow water,” according to a sheriff’s deputy, but also very close to a dark area that indicates deep water.

The three older victims were later found at the bottom of a steep drop-off there. Their survivors have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

“We’ve been constantly working on safety upgrades, making the public more aware of the natural hazards all throughout the park,” said Washington County Communications Officer Philip Bransford, who reports that the new signs were installed in late July.