AUBURN — Among the ideas for reopening the outlet beach at Lake Grove Park is installing a fountain, which could help circulate water that routinely tests high for bacteria.

Another is addressing the nearby ducks and geese, which are the source of much of the bacteria.

Officials working to reopen the beach, which has been closed to swimming since 2013, are hoping a combination of more water flow and fewer birds can finally allow the city to reopen its only public swimming hole.

The Lake Grove Park group that’s been given the task believes it could be done by June 2022, but city officials must first decide on a course of action. Last week, the City Council received an update on the project, which could result in a more in-depth study later this year.

The plan could include a new dock, paddle boats, kayaks, and improvements to the basketball court and playground space at the park.

The effort comes as the city is putting more emphasis on recreational spaces, hoping to attract new visitors and residents. City Councilor Brian Carrier said the outlet has been a “wasted resource” for a long time, and urged the council to complete a study.

“We’ve set aside money in the past to do this, and it just sort of seems like we drag it on, and drag it on,” he said last week.

The swimming hole has been plagued with water quality issues during the summer months due to poor water flow and circulation, and has been closed to swimming since 2013. But the council revived talks about the outlet late last year.

In 2013, the water exceeded Environmental Protection Agency standards of either E. coli bacteria or enterococci bacteria in 12 of 19 tests.

After talks restarted among city staff in 2020, basic tests were again conducted, which showed numbers consistent with previous testing. It was tested six times in 2020; the water exceeded E. coli levels in two of the samples.

This summer, the water was tested nine times in June and July. One test, on June 17, would have resulted in the beach’s closure.

Lake Auburn feeds the outlet pond through a single, 25-foot-wide outlet spillway under Route 4. Fresh water follows an 8-foot-deep stream through the pond and runs out through a spillway into Bobbin Mill Brook, under Fair Street.

The city allocated $100,000 in this year’s Capital Improvement Plan toward upgrades at the park, but City Manager Phil Crowell told councilors that a full consultant study of the outlet could use the entire budget.

Suzanne Roy, a member of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and chairwoman of the Lake Grove Park group, laid out a few options for officials. One posits that the city install a fountain to see if the added water flow resolves the bacteria issues; another would hire a consultant to design and install a fountain system specific to the beach.

A third option would hire a firm to conduct a full water and park study, which is estimated to cost between $45,000-$115,000.

Roy said adding a fountain, along with bird mitigation, “might be all we need,” but said the city “won’t know until we do it”

Some councilors appeared wary of installing a fountain without first knowing whether it would help the bacteria situation.

“I don’t want to put in something pretty and then not be able to use (the outlet),” Councilor Stephen Milks said.

Recreation Director Sabrina Best said the Lake Grove Park group would come back to the council with various study levels and what they would look like.

The discussions on the Lake Grove Park outlet are also playing out as the city looks again at recreational opportunities at Lake Auburn.

A forthcoming report on the rules governing Lake Auburn has revived talks on swimming and other added activities at the lake. The report lays out options for a possible pilot program at the lake, but has been met with skepticism.

Following an initial presentation of the report’s summary to city officials, Mayor Jason Levesque said if he could choose between reopening the outlet beach or starting a pilot program on the lake, he’d stick with the outlet.

“We’ve already invested resources there, it’s a built-out park with a long history, and a perfect place to have recreational swimming,” he said. “No one, including myself, is in favor of converting a section of Lake Auburn into a municipal beach.”

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