JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. – Rockford Beach Park in House Springs has experienced a slew of issues since the start of the season. Despite temperatures that feel like triple digits, warnings from officials could be paying off, with an apparent drop in crowds at the dangerous waters.
Two drownings and several water rescues have been recorded at Rockford Beach this season.
High Ridge Fire Chief John Barton said there haven’t been any rescues or deaths at the beach since the last reported drowning on Aug. 12.
From across the river, the view from the bluff is pretty steep, while rapid waters await below. It’s been part of the biggest problems plaguing the park since the season began. With parking lots that once overflowed, the park was almost empty on Wednesday afternoon.
“Every time we’ve been here, it’s usually had a lot of people,” said visitor Nicole Bianchino. “With this heat wave going on, sometimes the AC, cold drinks, and staying inside just doesn’t help or work.”
Those who own the dangerous parts of the bluff on the other side near the park say they’re just happy to see people weren’t trespassing on their property before venturing into the dangerous part of the cliff.
“It’s actually surprising that we don’t have a whole lot of people here, especially with the weather,” Barton said.
At one point, the overpopulation at the beach was so bad that law enforcement couldn’t get down to the site of a medical emergency near the water earlier this season. They now have a deputy monitoring the site and keeping an eye on the crowd intake.
“They’re here during peak hours,” Barton said. “They’re still doing what they can to manage the crowd size.”
There have been five drownings since 2014, two of which have occurred this year.
Normally, there is about one drowning every two years, Chief Barton said.
“I just don’t think people understand how lethal this current is,” Bianchino said.
What also makes enforcing rules at Rockford Beach difficult is the split in jurisdictions that occurs in the waterway.
“This side of the park is Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department; the far side of the park is Byrnes Mill city limits,” Barton said.
That district line also divides private and public property. Residents who own land on the far side of the waterway say they’re tired of people trespassing, especially when it results in them getting hurt or worse. The private property owners on Hallmark Drive say danger and trespassing signs are there for a reason.
“Anytime somebody gets in the river, they’re taking risks that they don’t need to take,” Barton said.
Those risks are rather difficult to police.
“There’s not an ordinance that the county could pass that’s gonna stop somebody who doesn’t know how to swim,” Barton said. “There’s just no way of preventing people from making a bad decision.”
That ordinance could not be passed unless an officer was able to remain on duty during all hours of the park’s operations, according to neighbors in contact with the county. They are only able to dispatch one officer to monitor all parks in the area.
The safety issues at the park raise the need for proper education, according to Barton, who believes it could be the only way to stop those who don’t know or understand the dangers of the water at the beach.
“The only thing we can try to do is educate,” he said.
FOX 2 reached out to the county for comment. A spokesperson said they’re doing everything to keep doing everything to keep crowd numbers down.