It's becoming routine that the beach area of Beltzville State Park gets closed because of high coliform counts. This week's closing is already the third time this summer.

Coliforms are universally present in large numbers in the feces of warm-blooded animals. A minimal number is anticipated for swimming areas.

Testing is done daily to assure the number isn't in excess of state minimum standards. When it is, the swimming area is closed due to health concerns.

There are many reasons the coliform count can rise. Among them are geese droppings, runoff from farms and poor sanitary habits of humans or any combination.

When the problem occurs so often as it does at Beltzville, there has to be a reason.

If the swimming area is polluted, how safe is fishing? Probably in the deeper portions of the lake, there's no concern. But what about the fish that swim fairly close to shore?

In the past, we've advocated that a fee be charged for state parks like Beltzville; possibly a parking fee at the beach parking lot.

Activities such as picnicking, hiking and even soccer played on the field there wouldn't be affected.

The need for such a fee is never more apparent than during the present state budget crisis. Major cuts have been made in the budget for necessary services.

Swimming at Beltzville and similar locations isn't a necessary service, but the state continues funding them.

There are a lot of expenses involved in operating the state park. Among them are ranger services, cleanup, especially after a hot weekend, testing of the water on a daily basis, patrols and maintenance.

Many of these expenses could be covered by a fee, such as one for parking. It wouldn't impede the convenience offered at the park. After all, many of the people using the beach area are not locals, so they pay for the gas to get here. Many pay turnpike fees.

Unnecessary spending is supposed to be one of the goals of our state lawmakers. Such spending without looking at a balancing income source is irresponsible.

This is what is happening with the swimming areas of state parks. There's a lot of expense involved, but no income to offset it.

Lawmakers really need to change this.

Fees are charged at municipal swimming pools. They're charged at county-owned pools. Let's face it, there's an expense involved in operating any swimming area.

Several years ago, lifeguards were removed from state parks, including Beltzville. Charging for parking might provide revenue for the rehiring of lifeguards, which would contribute to the local economy and make the swimming area safer.

If a fee is charged, perhaps more emphasis could put on finding the reason for the high coliform levels.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com