GROTON — Many hearts likely skipped a beat when sun worshippers expecting to cool off in the soothing waters off Sargisson Beach arrived there to find the entrance barred and gated.
“The parking area was closed and locked for a time last week because testing found that there was a high E. coli count in the water,” confirmed the town’s Conservation Agent Barbara Ganem.
Ganem said the water at Sargisson Beach is tested every week for fecal coliform, a bacteria generated by human and animal waste. If contamination is found it has to be closed for the public’s safety. After that, safety levels must be reached at least three days in a row before the beach can be used again.
“That has since occurred,” said Ganem, confirming that the beach has been reopened.
Located off Wiley Road on the Knops Pond end of the Lost Lake waterfront, Sargisson Beach is the only public swimming area in town, but due to lack of funding in the Conservation Commission’s budget, has had to depend on private donations for its continued maintenance.
In the past, the town has contracted with the Greater Lowell YMCA to run the waterfront including managing swim lessons but that association has not been renewed.
“We did that for quite a few years,” said Ganem, “but the arrangement wasn’t making any money. The bottom line was that it wasn’t even breaking even so that the town tax base was paying for it.”
Forced to discontinue the relationship, plans were made to close the beach when a combination of private donors including members of the public and Lawrence Academy stepped up to help keep it open.
Interest, however, has waned and there was no money this year to keep the beach officially maintained.
However, though the beach is not actively maintained by the town, it continues to be open to the public with the warning that there are no lifeguards on duty.
According to Ganem, the parking lot is open without the need for stickers and Porta-potties are on site.
Ganem reported few problems at the beach so far this year except for a couple of beer cans and evidence that some fishing had been done.
“We do have issues with people setting off fireworks down there,” added Ganem. “Also, there have been some fires and drinking, too.”
A rope swing hanging from a tree had to be removed, not because town officials did not want kids to have fun, but because it hung over some submerged blocks of granite.
Although residents are aware of a number of other places to go swimming in the town’s many ponds and streams, officially, the only other places besides Sargisson is the Country Club pool, a spot at Grotonwoods, or what locals refer to as “Baby Beach” also on Lost Lake/Knops Pond.
None, however, has quite the cachet of Sargisson Beach, the only place in town that looks the way people expect a beach to look like.
Last year, hours of operation at Sargisson Beach were from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week during summer.
“Sargisson Beach is a great resource and people who do go there have frequented it quite often,” said Ganem of the beach, which was donated to the town in 1967. “I’ve been down there myself and sometimes I don’t see anyone around, but on other days there’s a crowd.”