Beltzville operates at capacity on hot days
The crowd at Beltzville last Sunday can be seen from a boat on the lake. See a video at tnonline.com. AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS
Beltzville Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the area — especially on hot weekends.
It’s easily accessible via Interstate 80 and 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike to tourists from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Once off the highway, it’s a quick turn into the park and they’re at the 525-foot beach.
Alma Holmes, manager of Beltzville State Park, said she knows the crowds on the weekend can be off-putting to locals, but “people love the area. They love the park. We get to enjoy it every day. They only get to enjoy it one or two days a year.”
She also realizes that parking and trash are a problem with big crowds.
Holmes said that according to a calculation that factors together the amount of space people need for swimming and picnicking, Beltzville’s beach and picnic area should be able to accommodate more than 8,000 people. But parking that many people isn’t easy.
On the Fourth of July, lots A, B and C were all filled by 9 a.m. By 10:50 a.m., the overflow parking lot was full, too. That’s when they closed the gate.
Unfortunately, people started to park along Pohopoco Drive and the smaller streets off it. The problem is the streets are not wide enough for parking and for traffic to pass through safely.
“It becomes a safety issue,” Holmes said. “They were parking where they shouldn’t be.”
Holmes said she has spoken to the Franklin Township Police Department and the Pennsylvania State Police, and they do come out and ticket and tow vehicles. When Beltzville is full, she recommends that people try another state park, instead of risking a ticket.
As far as trash, she anticipated a large crowd for the Fourth of July, so she had three extra 30 yard dumpsters brought in. She also brought in extra employees from other parks and members of the Friends of Beltzville Lake to help with cleaning.
“Trash is a component of crowds,” she said. “It becomes logistically hard to keep up with it. We do need more people here at the park. I’m hoping that’s something the study will suggest.”
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has arranged with Penn State’s Recreation, Park and Tourism Management Department to study the park and provide some recommendations. A group from that department has been doing traffic counts, patron surveys and aerial photos during the busy weekends this summer to study the park. Holmes expects to receive their findings and recommendations in September.
“We want this place to be family-oriented for all families,” she said.
And then there’s the whole bacteria issue.
The beach has closed over the years, because of geese droppings and other bacteria.
But the geese are gone now and the park is working hard to monitor the water.
To date, the park’s beach has closed once this season on July 11. The park has closed multiple times over the years, notably six times in 2014.
Over the last few years, state park beaches at Tobyhanna, Blue Marsh, Hickory Run, Locust Lake, and the community-run Mauch Chunk Lake Park have all closed due to high bacterial counts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common bacteria in a lake are cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus and Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7.
Beltzville has had outbreaks of shigella in 1988, 2005 and 2014, but the germ cannot live in fresh water outside of an animal or human for more than 11 days, the CDC reported in September 2016. So the germ isn’t able to remain in the water long term.
Holmes said they test for E. coli on a weekly basis, and the water sample is sent to an independent lab. If it gets high, then they close the beach.
“E. coli is present in the lake every single day. It’s present in the environment all the time,” she said.
E. coli is found in animal and human droppings, but it is also be found in agricultural runoff and among vegetative materials. Heavy rains can stir up the vegetative materials and release larger amounts E. coli into the water, Holmes said.
A study in 1998 by U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health compared the survivability of E. coli in filtered and autoclaved municipal water, in reservoir water, and in water from two recreational lakes.
The greatest survivability was in filtered and autoclaved municipal water and the least was in lakes.
No matter the water source, the germ survived best in water temperatures of 46 degrees F and least survivability at 77 degree F over the course of 91 days. In the warmer water, it was nearly undetectable in 12 weeks. The average water temperature at Beltzville Lake is between 62 and 65 degrees F, Holmes said.
To swim or not to swim?
The CDC recommends that people:
• Should not go swimming if they are experiencing diarrhea.
• Don’t go in the water with an open wound that is not covered with a waterproof bandage.
• Take a shower before getting in the water, and afterward as well. Make sure to dry the ears.
• Don’t swallow the water.
• Take children to the bathroom and check diapers every hour. Change diapers in the bathroom, not near the water.
• And watch the children. Children can drown in seconds.