Bonnifield Lake beach opens to public
With winter squarely in the rearview mirror and the mercury in the thermometer continuing to rise, the Fairfield Park & Recreation Department decided it was time to open the beach at Bonnifield Lake.
City code stipulates the swim season as beginning on April 1 and ending Oct. 31. However, the park and rec director has the authority to delay opening the beach if the weather is too cold. Park and rec director Derik Wulfekuhle said this past winter was so long that it was not safe to go swimming April 1.
Wulfekuhle said park and rec staff need time to get the beach ready by cleaning up trash and weeding, and doing those things in early April would not have been time well spent. He did receive a few calls from people who wanted to swim that month, but the occasionally cold temperatures made him fear someone could get hypothermia, which is why he waited until Monday to open the beach.
All city parks officially opened May 1. Renting a shelter for four hours costs $15, and anytime after that is an additional $15. Wulfekuhle said a lot of people rent shelters for graduation parties, and that reunions are another good money-maker for the city. He estimated the city generates $4,000-$5,000 from shelter rentals every year.
He said Chautauqua Park is probably the most popular park for large groups to congregate, and that O.B. Nelson Park is also popular because of the nearby playground. For groups requiring more seating than the shelter allows, the city also rents picnic tables and picnic benches.
The beach underwent a few improvements last year. One of those was the creation of a berm to direct rainwater away from the beach. Wulfekuhle said the water coming down the slope from the parking lot to the beach was washing away an enormous amount of sand, which had to be replaced every year. He estimated 3-5 tons of sand were lost each year. The city hired an excavator who used a bulldozer to create a mound of dirt that redirects water around the beach or into a pipe that goes to the lake.
Last year saw the debut of a couple of safety stations, containing information about safe swimming as well as lifejackets and a ring for emergency rescues. In March 2013, the city council discussed what should happen if the safety equipment were stolen from the beach. The council considered writing into the beach ordinance a section stipulating the beach’s closure in the event of the safety equipment’s absence. Ultimately, the council decided to leave such a stipulation out of the ordinance, but to recommend to the park and rec director that he follow that as a policy.
Wulfekuhle said the safety equipment was stolen last year, a few times in fact, but that he always had spare equipment in storage so he never had to close the beach for that reason. The safety stations were designed by Susan Klauber and built by Steve Vessey.
One problem the city had last year, and which Wulfekuhle fears will continue this year, is the number of geese that defecate on the beach when they come ashore at night. A group of volunteers attempted to solve that problem last year when they installed a thin rope, suspended about 6 inches off the ground, around the perimeter of the lake.
Bob Klauber, head of the Beach Volunteer Committee and Susan Klauber’s husband, said the rope is not intended to harm or trap the geese but simply to dissuade them from coming on land by giving them an obstacle to get around. He said people in other parts of the country have found the tactic to be successful at encouraging geese to lay their eggs near other bodies of water.
Unfortunately for the volunteers, they learned that the city administrator Kevin Flanagan had ordered the rope to be taken down just a few weeks after it was installed out of a fear it was a tripping hazard. Klauber said he did not believe it was a tripping hazard since it was placed in areas with tall grass and bushes where people do not walk. He also said a few volunteers were very upset with the city’s decision to remove the rope and that those volunteers no longer want to have anything to do with maintaining the beach.
Klauber said the feces the geese leave behind are not just smelly and unsightly but a genuine health hazard. Not only that, it takes forever to clean.
“When we have a family of geese, or pairs of geese, and each end up with seven to nine chicks, we can have 12-20 geese spending the night on the beach and they poop like crazy,” he said. “It will take one person two hours to clean it all up.”
Klauber said the volunteers now feel removing geese feces is not their responsibility and that it should be up to the city to deal with. Klauber said he has other ideas for preventing the geese from coming ashore that don’t require a rope around the lakeshore. He suggested putting foam noodles on the floating rope that marks the swimming area by the beach. The problem with the current rope, he said, is that it’s too thin and the geese swim over it. If a thick foam noodle enveloped the rope, the geese couldn’t swim over it and they would avoid coming ashore at the beach.