The temperatures were in the mid- to high-90s last week, but there weren’t many people taking advantage of Windsor Lake.
Windsor officials closed Windsor Lake on July 30 to swimmers and boaters at the suggestion of the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment after two people tested positive for shigella, a gastrointestinal infection that causes diarrhea, due to a higher level of E. coli bacteria. Seven cases of shigella were eventually confirmed. There were no reported cases of E. coli illnesses.
Once the test results of water samples taken from Windsor Lake were within normal limits, the lake reopened on Aug. 2, but the once-crowded lake has remained empty.
A handful of people were on the beach and in the water during the afternoons throughout last week, and some people swimming in the lake from Greeley, Fort Collins and even from Castle Rock who were visiting relatives didn’t know the lake had been closed the week before.
The town placed temporary signs on the posts at the lake stating that the lake is an agricultural water source and ingestion of untreated agricultural water carries an inherent risk of possible exposure to pathogenic organisms. The sign also said that children must wear a swim diaper, and individuals who are ill are asked to refrain from using the water.
Dawn Buschmann of Windsor didn’t have any problems going to the lake Tuesday afternoon with her 10-year-old son, Owen. She had a little concern, but not enough to stay away.
“There’s not very many people here. It’s usually packed,” Buschmann said.
Buschmann said she thought the lake and beach were empty because of the recent incident.
“We just live not too far and we can see over here, and it’s usually gobs full of people. Usually there are tents and all kinds of stuff set up here,” she said. “It’s too bad. I think people are just afraid. It’s a lake. It’s not like pool water where it’s super clean and chlorinated and free from any bacteria. That’s the risk you take with going to a lake. Don’t drink the water.”
Buschmann thinks the stigma of the lake closing due to higher than normal levels of bacteria will eventually wear off.
“I don’t know how long it will take, but it will wear off and people will come back,” Buschmann said. “Unfortunately, it’s the end of the summer (school-wise) so maybe it’s not going to be real busy the rest of the year.”
Melissa Chew, director of parks, recreation and culture for the town of Windsor, said the reduced numbers at the lake are a result of people being concerned about swimming in the lake, people watching the Olympics and school starting soon.
“I’m not sure that we will see the same numbers for the remainder of this season that we saw earlier in the year, but I think it’s been an educational process for people to learn more about Windsor Lake, the recreational benefits that are there, as well as the precautionary measures that they should take as individuals swimming in an agricultural body of water,” Chew said. “I don’t think our numbers yet this season will go back up where they were, but I think next summer people will return to the lake and they will enjoy it as a recreational amenity.”
Chew said the town will be adding permanent signs to each post alerting people that it’s an agricultural body of water and those swimming in it should not drink the water. She said Windsor Lake had never been closed since it was opened as a swim beach in 2008.
Chew said agricultural bodies of water being subjected to bacterial infestations are very common.
“Lake Loveland closes from time to time,” Chew said. “Horsetooth ... and down in Denver like Cherry Creek State Park, Chatfield State Recreation area have all been subject to closures at one time or another. What’s important is that you monitor it and respond appropriately, and that’s why we worked hand in hand with the health department.”
Windsor Lake concession stand employee Rikki Huston didn’t help out many customers during her shift.
“I think people are afraid to come back because they think they’re going to get sick,” Huston said. “Week days are usually slower than weekends, but it’s still usually packed during afternoons on hot days like this. I don’t think it will be very busy the rest of the summer, but I think next year it’ll be like it was.”
Beth Connell of Greeley was sitting a chair on the beach while her granddaughter, Ashtyn, 9, played in the lake last Tuesday. It wasn’t her first time back since it reopened. She was back at the lake on Aug. 3, the day after it reopened.
“If you’re going to swim in a body of water like this, you’re going to take some chances,” Connell said. “I grew up in Iowa so we swam in farm ponds all the time.”
She said there weren’t many people at the lake the day after it reopened, and was surprised that hardly anyone was there on Tuesday.
“I’m surprised, especially since it’s 93 degrees,” Connell said.
Don Stutler of Greeley said he wouldn’t have come to the lake with his 8-year-old son Quinten if he had known the lake had been closed the week before.
“We probably wouldn’t have come,” Stutler said. “I probably would have let it go another week or something. If I had known about it, we would have done some other adventure today.”
Katrina Avinger of Windsor and her two sons, Thomas, 10, and Dalton, 4, accompanied their mother to the lake. She said they swim in Windsor Lake at least once a week.
“We’ve come here quite a bit this summer,” Avinger said.
The closing of the lake didn’t concern Avinger, who lived in Florida before moving to Colorado.
“It didn’t worry me too much. My friends told me this happens every couple of years in these lakes,” Avinger said. “It seems just fine to me. There definitely are a lot less people than usual.”
Thomas wasn’t worried either. He was all about swimming in the lake.
“It felt refreshing,” he said.
I think people are afraid to come back because they think they’re going to get sick. Week days are usually slower than weekends, but it’s still usually packed during afternoons on hot days like this. I don’t think it will be very busy the rest of the summer, but I think next year it’ll be like it was.
Windsor Lake concession stand employee