Outlet Beach on the east side of Lake Auburn has been closed to swimming since 2013 due to water quality issues. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Officials are reviving talks on how to reopen Outlet Beach — the only source in the entirety of Lake Auburn available for public swimming, which has been closed since 2013.

During a City Council workshop Monday, officials will hear a series of recommendations from the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board regarding Outlet Beach and the adjacent Lake Grove Park, which has remained open as a public park.

According to a council memo, the recommendations include conducting a study into how bacteria levels that have caused the beach to remain closed could potentially be controlled, and if not, how to make the area more attractive to recreation.

“The board recommends that this space be revisited as a public beach for the residents of Auburn,” the memo states. “We have a wonderful lake right in our backyard, but no ability to touch any of it.”

The board put forward two recommendation options that will depend on the results of a study.

It said the beach should be reopened if a study finds that it’s feasible by controlling the bacteria levels. If it finds that the water cannot be made safe enough to swim, but can be controlled in some way, the board recommends the beach be used to offer kayak lessons, paddle boating, or other water recreation that is not swimming.

If the study shows that bacteria levels can not be controlled at all, the city should continue maintaining Lake Grove Park as is, the board said.

Outlet Beach on the East side of Lake Auburn has been closed to swimming since 2013 due to water quality issues. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The swimming hole has been plagued with water quality issues during the summer months due to poor water flow and circulation.

When the beach was closed in 2013, the water exceeded Environmental Protection Agency levels of either E. coli bacteria or enterococci bacteria in 12 of 19 tests. City officials were waiting until the water was clear of bacteria for at least 30 days, but it never happened.

A subsequent 2013 report commissioned by the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission and the city blamed part of the problem on a lack of fresh water. Lake Auburn feeds the pond through a single, 25-foot-wide outlet spillway under Route 4. Fresh water follows an eight-foot-deep stream through the pond and runs out through a spillway into Bobbin Mill Brook, under Fair Street.

The City Council in 2018 added $100,000 into its Capital Improvement Plan for testing and a study of the beach, but an official study was never done. The city has continued to test the water, and according to the council memo, it was tested six times in 2020. In two of the samples, the water exceeded E. coli levels.

The advisory board’s memo said the city does not own the property but has favorable terms on a long-term lease for the purpose of swimming and recreation. The public park area offers picnic areas, a playground and grills.

During previous discussions in 2018, Mayor Jason Levesque said if swimming were eventually allowed again at Outlet Beach, he would pursue a partnership between the city and YMCA to establish an aquatic program.

The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board has also been looking into potential upgrades at the “Tot Lot” park.

In the memo, board chairwoman Misty Edgecomb said, “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 the demand for outdoor space, specifically in our community parks and trails, was critical to providing a safe place to recreate and a sense of normalcy. It is a priority of this board to ensure these spaces are maintained, safe, and accessible to our community past COVID-19.”

Throughout the pandemic, city staff has said the use of outdoor recreational areas, especially Mt. Apatite, has ballooned.

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