LAKE OF THE WOODS — The 4th of July is one of the busiest days of the year at Lake of the Woods. Families are boating, swimming or paddling away happily, enjoying the festivities.
There are a handful of people on the water and on the shore who aren’t there to enjoy the holiday. Klamath County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl.Daren Krag is one of them.
Krag skipper’s the Marine Patrol Unit for the sheriff’s office. He and the other sheriff’s deputies on marine patrol ensure everyone is being safe and following rules on the water.
People just want to have fun on holidays, and they are prone to getting upset if anything interferes with their day off, including a ticket or warning from law enforcement, Krag says.
“Sometimes we don’t all play nice together,” Krag notes with a grin.
But marine patrol officers know that an accident will ruin a holiday much more than a ticket, and they’ve seen all kinds of ways bad things happen on holidays. (See related stories on A3).
“We’ve had some horrible accidents and drownings, we’ve lost kids,” Krag said.
In fact, Krag is feeling tired this July 4th evening because he was taking care of a boating accident early in morning down at Klamath Lake.
“One boat actually went over the other,” he said.
Krag has been doing marine patrol for 12 years, and hasn’t had a 4th of July off in all that time.
“In the summer months, you don’t get holidays off — you don’t get weekends off. That’s when people are out. It wouldn’t make any sense for us not to be here,” he said.
Krag speeds around the lake in his patrol boat checking tags on boats and making sure children are wearing life jackets. Every once in a while, the lights on a volunteer boat turn on and Krag boats over to it.
Volunteer boats are full of people who, in Krags words, love boating and decided to dedicate their time to making sure people are safe. There are 10 to 15 of them that help his marine patrol unit.
“Without them, we wouldn’t have a program. They give so much; thousands of hours a year that they just donate. They’re awesome,” Krag said.
When the volunteers run into a problem that needs Krag’s attention, they call him over by turning on their lights.
This particular 4th of July was quieter than most. Because it fell on Thursday, fewer people decided to come to Lake of the Woods.
Krag dealt with a disagreement between two boats, and issued a few warnings to boats with improper lights.
On a prior June ride-along, the Herald and News witnessed Krag writing up a BUI — Boating Under the Influence.
Two men were boating while under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, and they had a four-year-old child in the boat.
Krag initially pulled up beside them because the child wasn’t wearing a life vest, but the smell of marijuana was obvious, and Krag took the driver to shore and had the boat towed in.
Marijuana, while legal recreationally in Oregon, is not legal on federally owned land such as Lake of the Woods, and certainly not while operating a boat.
Between the sobriety tests and questions Krag had for the driver of the boat, he still gave the boy some stickers and a whistle.
Krag always has a supply of stickers and whistles to give to children.
On the off seasons, Krag teaches boating safety to children in Kindergarten and third grade. He also teaches boating safety courses elsewhere in the community, investigates boat accidents that lead to fatalities, and patrols the water even in the winter months.
Krag is humble when talking about his career, but he was recently recognized with a prestigious Western States Boating Administrators Association Officer of the Year Award.
After winning best in Oregon, Krag went on to receive best in the western states, and will now go into a pool of three regional winners in the running for the national award.
Krag said he hopes the award will bring recognition to the volunteers for marine patrol, saying they are the reason he is able to focus his efforts.
As the sun went down on Lake of the Woods, the lake quieted down. The fireworks show was reflected in the water, and the sound echoed spectacularly off the mountains.
The sheriff’s boat had the best view of the show. Although the job can be thankless, it does have its perks.