Discover Why Lake Lanier Could Be America’s Most Dangerous Lake

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: May 31, 2023
© iStock.com/Steve Samples
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Just in the first half of 2022, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law division reported 14 boating-related fatalities, 67 injuries and 114 incidents in Georgia in 2021. Between 2008-2018 there were 42 fatalities just on Lake Lanier alone.  Looking back at history there have been around 700 deaths on Lake Lanier due to accidents and drownings, making this lake one of America’s most dangerous lakes. But what makes it so dangerous? Is the lake infested with human-eating alligators? Are there wild undertows? A sandbar of quicksand? Let’s discover why Lake Lanier could be America’s most dangerous lake.

Where is Lake Lanier?

Lake Lanier is named after poet Sidney Lanier. It is a great place for swimming, striped and spotted bass fishing, and ghosts!

©iStock.com/Christine_Kohler

Lake Lanier is about 60 miles NE of Atlanta, Georgia. The full name of the lake is Sidney Lanier Lake named after the famous poet Sidney Lanier. It is a very popular lake for boating, swimming, fishing, paddling and watersports.

How Big is Lake Lanier?

Lake lanier satellite map
This satellite image gives you a picture of just how big Lake Lanier is (38,000 acres).

©http://www.terraprints.com / CC BY 2.5 – License

The lake is 38,000 acres or 59 sq mi (150 km2)with 692 miles of shoreline. When the lake is full, or what they call “full pool level” it is 1,071 ft (326 m) above sea level.

Is Lake Lanier a Natural Lake or Artificial?

The Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River is what creates Lake Lanier. The river is a popular place for boating, paddling and fishing.

©iStock.com/BluIz60

Lake Lanier is an artificial reservoir created by the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River. It was built in the early 1950s and completed in 1956.

Why Was the Lake Built?

The main reason Lake Lanier was built was for flood control and water supplies for the growing cities around it.

How Many People Visit Lake Lanier Each Year?

See The Amazing Difference Between Spotted Bass and Largemouth Poster Image
Spotted bass and striped bass are popular fish in Lake Lanier.

©iStock.com/FtLaudGirl

The average number of visitors to Lake Lanier each year is between 7 million and 11 million! So, you can see just how popular this lake is. Many visitors make multiple visits to boat, swim and fish. The lake is known as a hot spot for spotted bass, striped bass, bream, crappie, channel catfish and rainbow trout.

Why Could Lake Lanier be One of America’s Most Dangerous Lakes?

Just look at the numbers! Some report that more than 700 people have died on Lake Lanier since it was created in 1956. Let’s look at two main reasons Lake Lanier has such a high number of fatalities. First are measurable, statistical reasons for the high fatality rate, secondly are superstitions based on the ghostly past and history of Lake Lanier.

What Are the Facts, Why do so Many Fatalities Happen on Lake Lanier?

Houghton Lake
One of the dangers on Lake Lanier is people not following safe boating practices like boating under the influence and not wearing life jackets.

©HoverSolutions/Shutterstock.com

First, there are the sheer number of visitors to the lake. With 7-11 million visitors there is an increased chance that something will go wrong. What makes Lake Lanier unique is that the waters can be dark and murky, so if someone goes overboard while out enjoying an evening on the boat, it is very difficult for rescue crews to find them in time. According to the Georgia DNR another issue they struggle with is the number of BUI (Boating Under the Influence) that they have to deal with. There were 525 BUI’s between 2008-2018 on Lake Lanier. That is a whole lot of people not following the law. Another issue is with the number of people, especially kids under the age of 13, not wearing life jackets while boating. The high death toll on Lake Lanier could be reduced if everyone just followed the rules (or at least more people).

What Are the “Ghost Stories” About Lake Lanier Being Haunted?

One theory behind the unusually high number of deaths on Lake Lanier is that there are ghosts in the water that pull swimmers and boaters under as revenge for a wrongful past. There have been many wrongful deeds done in the area, now covered in water that is Lanier Lake. Let’s look at 3 of the worst reasons there may be ghosts trying to make amends.

1. Forsyth County, 1912, White Mob Terrorizes Blacks in the Community Over Alleged Crime

Racial tensions were high in Forsyth County in 1912, which was located in the area where Lake Lanier is now. The Gainesville Times report that two black men were implicated in a crime against a white woman and one was beaten and hung, the 24-year-old suspect named Rob Edwards. The group of whites that were part of the mob continued their rampage, eventually causing almost all of the black residents to move. Historians that reviewed the events and evidence believe this to be an incredibly wrong and disgraceful way to handle the situation believing that Rob Edwards and the three others implicated in the incident were innocent. The bullying that followed by the group of whites folks is intolerable. The legend states that the ghosts of the disgraced blacks of the town may be haunting the Lake, looking for justice.

2. Lady of the Lake

In April of 1958, just two years after the Lake had been finished, two ladies were driving on Dawsonville Highway when the driver, Susie Roberts lost control of the car and drove off an edge by the Lanier Bridge. Her passenger, Delia May Parker Young, went over the edge with her. The lake at that point was 90 feet deep! Both women were presumed dead, sunk in the deep muddy waters of the lake.

A year later a fisherman came across a body floating near one of the bridges. After a year in the lake it was unidentifiable, so it was not known which woman it was. It remained a mystery for the next 30 years. In 1990 a construction crew dredging the area in preparation for a bridge expansion found the 1950’s Ford with the remains of Susie Roberts inside. This is how she has been known as the mysterious “Lady of the Lake”. It is rumored her ghost is responsible for some of the unsolved fatalities on Lake Lanier.

3. 20 Relocated Cemeteries

 Another source of alleged ghosts are all of the souls from the graves that were disturbed and relocated when the town of Oscarville was forced to close so that the Lake could be formed in its place. There were 20 cemeteries at the time, can you imagine digging up and moving graves from 20 different cemeteries? There were also 250 families that were currently living in Oscarville that were forced to leave their homes. More than 50,000 acres of farmland were also lost in the process. Certainly an aura of resentment hovers over the underwater ghost town.

There are clearly many hypotheses as to what makes Lake Lanier one of America’s deadliest lakes, perhaps it is a combination of carelessness, unfortunate accidents and bad omens from unjust actions in the past. Hopefully the tides will change and there will be a steady decrease in deaths on Lake Lanier, making it a safe place for all to enjoy.

Where Is Lake Lanier Located on a Map?

As previously mentioned, the main purpose of Buford Dam has been flood control on the Chattahoochee River. Primarily, the dam and lake protect Atlanta, which is downstream. Since the construction of the dam was finished in 1956, only three major flooding events have occurred on the downstream section; the most severe was in 2009 and the most recent in 2013.

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Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier is a great place for Striped and Spotted bass fishing and ghosts!
© iStock.com/Steve Samples

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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