Beach move is worth a closer look

With kids out of school and temps in the 80s, this is the time of year when swimming at a local beach becomes part of a local family’s daily routine. It’s especially so in this muggy summer. If you have elementary-school-aged kids, it’s almost essential. These places are also important because they’re where much of the important inter-family socialization takes place: parents chatting while kids play.

The beaches on Mirror Lake, Little Wolf Pond, Lake Colby, Lake Clear and Lake Everest, and swimming holes like the Flume and the Jay rocks – these are natural and essential infrastructure for Adirondack residents.

Unsurprisingly, people have strong feelings about them. In Saranac Lake, when village leaders moved the beach from Lake Flower to Lake Colby in the 1970s, many never forgave them and never stopped calling for it to be moved back.

After all these decades, those calls have picked up momentum again lately. That’s partly due to Facebook – a “Lake Flower Beach Return” group has more than 3,000 members – and also to current village leadership. Paul Van Cott, a relatively new village trustee, has fond memories of swimming at the Lake Flower beach that drive him to pursue the matter.

Earlier this week, the village board voted to seek bids for a study of moving the beach back, including a cost-benefit analysis. The study’s cost would be paid by the Lake Flower Beach Return group, which reportedly has raised more than $4,000 so far for that purpose, and possibly by the village as well.

If so many thousands of people want this, elected leaders should get the facts they need to give it serious consideration – especially if the advocates are willing to pay to get those facts. This study is worth a few thousand dollars.

We’re not ready yet, however, to say the beach should be moved. We hope the study is unbiased, and we’ll wait to see what it turns up.

There are pluses and minuses on both sides.

Those pushing this effort are right in saying the Lake Colby beach is weedier, windier and too far out on the edge of the village. We’ve heard many kids – whose judgment should be taken seriously in such matters – say they just don’t like swimming in Lake Colby very much.

Plenty still use it, but many parents feel that if they have to pack the kids in the car anyway, they might as well go the extra 8 miles to the state beach at Lake Clear. That’s where many Saranac Lake families meet.

On the other side are many who say the Lake Flower beach, in its heyday, was too small and crowded, and too close to the road. Cars would whiz by and cast dirt and exhaust toward swimmers, and that was when River Street was just two lanes wide. The catalyst for moving the beach was that the state made River Street to a four-lane highway – which, in hindsight, was unnecessary and detrimental in separating the community from its lakeshore. Nevertheless, the state has no plan to turn the clock back on that.

Other reasons:

-There’s no parking by the Lake Flower beach site. The old days were not like today. Kids then would often walk to of the Lake Flower beach in the morning, unaccompanied by adults, only have to be home by dinnertime. Parents are no longer so carefree. Now they drive their families to the beach, and visitors drive, too. Some want the state to turn one lane of River Street into parking, which would be great but unlikely. It would be long in coming if it did happen, and wouldn’t produce many spots anyway.

-Lake Flower is far from clean, or quiet. It was, for generations, a village dumping ground, and the detritus of an old coal gasification plant still pollutes it. It was considered unsafe even as a backup, treated source of village drinking water. It also is busy with motorboats and personal watercraft. Lake Colby, by contrast, has clean, spring-fed water and has a 10-horsepower limit on motors.

None of these points is new. The study will hopefully consider them and many others, and weigh the costs versus the benefits. If it’s not too expensive to move the beach and the pros seem to significantly outweigh the cons, then sure. It seems unlikely, though, that a good study would ringingly endorse either option. It’s controversial because it’s a tough call.