The Lake That Many Call The Most Dangerous In America

Northern Georgia's Lake Lanier — technically a reservoir — was created in 1956, as a result of the construction of the Buford Dam. Like many other reservoirs, Lake Lanier ended up flooding out towns that had previously been established in the area, including Oscarville, in Forsyth County, a thriving Black community with rich farmland. Black landowners helped establish the prosperous town, which was 30 miles north of Atlanta. In 1912, a young white woman was found dead in a forest near the area. In response, a white lynch mob swept through the town, killing people and burning many of its buildings. The Black residents were eventually driven out of the town, and a few decades later, Lake Lanier flooded out what was left of Oscarville.

Unlike many urban legends, the dark history of Lake Lanier actually does have something tangible to do with its current reputation for danger. Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why water can be deadly or dangerous. The most dangerous beach in Massachusetts is deadly because of sharks. Other areas can be dangerous for swimming because of currents, but Lake Lanier's element of danger is much more complicated.

Many deaths are caused by drunk and reckless boating

Lake Lanier has recorded more than 700 deaths since its creation in 1956and 27 bodies have never been found. One of the most obvious –- and avoidable –- reasons for so many deaths on the lake is that boaters use the lake recreationally, and frequently operate boats under the influence. Drunk boating increases the risks of collisions with other boats. The other problem is that there are a lot of boats and recreational water vessels on the surface. According to the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, more than 10 million people visit Lake Lanier a year, and the greater the number of people, the greater the odds are that there will be an accident.

Many boaters fail to wear life jackets, and this increases the risk of drowning. So a huge part of the injuries and fatalities around Lake Lanier have to do with reckless behavior. There has also been the odd alligator sighting in the lake. Some of these hazards are sadly common to many lakes, but the fact that Lake Lanier has such an intense volume of visitors makes it more dangerous. 

Lake Lanier's haunted history

While many deaths at Lake Lanier have to do with irresponsible boating, there are several other factors that make the lake so dangerous. Because it was manmade, there is still an entire forest underneath the lake, as well as buildings that were part of the previous towns. One diver was walking on the bottom of the lake and fell into a well that had once been used by a homestead. He was unharmed. The tree tops aren't very far below the surface, and if someone swims or falls into the lake, it's much easier to get caught in underwater branches. 

When the lake was created, it wasn't made with boaters in mind. It's also an unusually murky lake. Visibility is low, making it difficult for both swimmers and divers. "As you go down into water within a few feet of shore, that murkiness starts setting in," Division Chief Jason Shivers told 11 Alive. "Within twenty feet from shore, on even a gentle slope, it becomes very difficult to see. Much more beyond that, you can't see at all. It is virtually impossible to see." Sgt. Chris Tempel said, "Diving in Lake Lanier probably is one of the most dangerous things I've done in my career."