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      Community leaders band together to end drowning deaths

      Dozens of community organization leaders came together on Wednesday for a collaborative effort to try and eliminate the high number of water related injuries and drowning deaths in the area.

      At least 15 different organizations are involved in the group called, Water Safety Network. They met at the Grand Traverse County Health Department for the first time on Wednesday to discuss their different goals. Some of the groups include the American Red Cross, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Grand Traverse County Metro Fire Department, Coast Guard, Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation, and the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

      "We're trying to bring together a network of diverse organizations that can collectively use it's assets to solve community issues, which in this case, water safety," said Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Director, Jason Jones. "We're trying to build water confidence and educate the community about what to do if they get into trouble in the water or if they have friends that get in trouble in the water."

      The network is aimed at teaching people of all ages about how to stay safe in the water. Jones says it's an important issue here in northern Michigan because of the many lakes, and rivers that surround communities and the people that visit them.

      Traverse City Area Public Schools Chief of Schools, Sander Scott was also in attendance. He says the district already has water safety courses in place for it's students and that they are hoping to expand. Currently, freshmen take water safety classes at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. The district is hoping to expand the program to third graders, and to offer more water safety lessons through the YMCA.

      "We want to be a part of this effort to really make kids safe in the water so that they're comfortable and they can enjoy the water without having to risk their lives doing so," said Sanders."

      Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department would like to team up with Great Lakes Power Squadron to teach students at TCAPS and other area districts about water and fire safety, along with other subjects.

      The Grand Traverse County Health Department is trying to get a grant approved from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help with placing safety equipment on county beaches. With enough money, they hope to put the safety equipment on other area beaches outside of the county.

      According to Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation, approximately 36 drowning deaths have occurred in Grand Traverse, Benzie, and Leelanau Counties since 2007. Jones says an abnormally high number of them occurred in 2013.