SARANAC LAKE - A committee of volunteers working to return the village beach to Lake Flower is confident it can overcome the state regulatory and fundraising hurdles that stand in its way.
Members of the committee met Wednesday with village Trustee Paul Van Cott, who's been talking with officials at the state agencies that would need to sign off on a new public beach at Lake Flower.
"I can say right from the outset, having talked to all the village board members, everybody would like to see a beach come back to Lake Flower," Van Cott told the group. "The challenge for us is working through the regulatory hurdles, making sure it's something the community as a whole wants to do, and figuring out how to pay for it."
Locals say the village beach at Lake Flower was a hub of activity, as seen in this 1960s postcard.
(Image courtesy of Phil “Bunk” Griffin)
The village beach was located in Prescott Park at Lake Flower, across from the intersection of Church and River streets, until the 1970s, when it was closed as part of the state's widening of River Street to a four-lane highway. A new village beach was created at Lake Colby, where it is today.
Since the day it was closed, many local residents have lamented the loss of the Lake Flower beach because it was a popular recreational area and social hub for the community, and an attraction to visitors passing through.
This most recent effort to bring the beach back to Lake Flower started in mid-May when village resident Shawn Boyer created a "Lake Flower Beach Return" group page on Facebook. Within a short time, more than 3,000 people joined the group, and an eight-member committee was formed to lead the beach return campaign.
Van Cott told the committee Wednesday that he hasn't run into any "deal-breaker hurdles" in his conversations with the state agencies. He said he's talked to officials at the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation while village Manager John Sweeney has reached out to the state Adirondack Park Agency, since Van Cott works for the APA.
"All of the agencies have been very open to discussion of a Lake Flower beach," Van Cott said. "If it's something the community wants to do, they're open to working with us."
Van Cott said the agency that will play the biggest role in permitting a beach is the Health Department. Ensuring the water in the lake is safe for swimming, specifically through regular testing for coliform bacteria, would be one of its key concerns, he said.
Do you have photos of the old Saranac Lake beach on Lake Flower?
Bring them to the Enterprise during business hours for us to scan and return. We might publish them in the future, with credit to you.
Van Cott said the village has done testing for coliform bacteria at the site of the former Lake Flower Beach this year, and all the tests have come back within the acceptable levels for a beach.
"That's a big plus," Boyer said.
The Health Department would also require a sand or pea-gravel beach at the site and a bathhouse that would have bathroom and hand-washing facilities, Van Cott said.
Committee members noted that locating public restrooms near the Lake Flower boat launch, next to the former beach, is something the village has discussed in the past with the DEC. Others suggested the Lake Colby beach house be moved to Lake Flower.
Van Cott said that brings up a larger question about the fate of the Lake Colby beach, if the Lake Flower beach is reopened. It costs the village about $20,000 a year to run the Lake Colby beach.
"They should close it," said committee member Marsha Morgan. "I can't see having two, and the (Lake Flower) one would be such a big improvement."
Parking is another issue with the Lake Flower site. Van Cott said the state Department of Transportation, in the past, has not been receptive to the idea of people parking along River Street, and DEC doesn't want its boat launch parking lot, which is already busy in the summer, overrun with beach goers. One potential parking area, he said, is the village-owned property where the Winter Carnival Ice Palace is built each year.
The biggest potential issue for DEC, Van Cott said, is that Pontiac Bay may contain hazardous waste including benzene and coal tar from a former coal-gasification plant once run by the Saranac Lake Gas Company on Payeville Lane, which drains into Brandy Brook and eventually Pontiac Bay.
"They haven't done a full study of it yet," Van Cott said. "They've gotten some samples that have been elevated. They don't know whether that contamination has followed the river and gone down along the shoreline, and whether or not there are contaminated sediments in the area where the beach would be located."
Environmental testing, and potential remediation, would have to be done before a beach could be located along the Lake Flower shoreline, something that Van Cott said could take time.
"I never thought this would be something that would happen overnight," Boyer responded. "I figured at least a couple years."
As for potential APA issues, Van Cott said Sweeney was told the bathhouse would need to be at least 50 feet from the shoreline to comply with the agency's setback regulations; otherwise a variance would be needed.
The committee's next step would be to hire a consultant to develop a feasibility study. North Woods Engineering and the LA Group have submitted proposals, each of which would cost in the $5,000 range.
But Morgan questioned the need for a consultant.
"I think we could do a lot by ourselves," she said. "It doesn't seem like it should be a big deal. We have pictures of what the beach used to look like. We've got state-of-the-art equipment from the village. They could come in and grade that. We've got a ton of sand."
Van Cott said a feasibility study that shows the project's costs and objectives will be needed if the committee plans to raise funds from donors or seek grants for the project. He noted that funding from the village may be hard to come by, given its current budget constraints.
Boyer said he didn't hear anything Wednesday to make him think the idea wasn't feasible. He thinks the people who've voiced support for a new Lake Flower Beach will come forward and contribute money to the cause.
"I think there's a lot of people out there that are willing," he said. "We'll take this one little step at a time. I'm excited about it."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.