SARANAC LAKE - It seems like nary a week goes by in this village when someone doesn't utter the words, "Ya know, they oughta bring the beach back to Lake Flower."
Now, a group of nostalgic local residents is pushing to make it happen, and they've gotten the attention of village officials.
Over the past month, more than 3,000 people have joined a "Lake Flower Beach Return" group page on Facebook that was started by village resident Shawn Boyer. They've been using the site to share memories of summers spent swimming on the shores of Lake Flower, and to voice support for bringing back the beach.
Locals say the village beach at Lake Flower was always a hub of activity, as seen in this 1950s-era postcard.
(Image courtesy of Phil “Bunk” Griffin)
"We need to return this beach to its rightful place in Saranac Lake so that the new generation can start making wonderful memories like we all had," Jeannie Gillespie Darrah posted on the page.
"This is a very smart move if this can be approved, and would benefit the local economy and the overall spirit of our wonderful town," Sean Stinson wrote recently.
The village beach was located in Prescott Park at Lake Flower, roughly across from the intersection of Church and River streets, until the mid-to-late 1970s when it was closed as part of the state's widening of River Street to a four-lane highway. A new village beach was ultimately created at Lake Colby, where it is today.
Since the day it was closed, local residents have lamented the loss of the Lake Flower beach because it was a popular recreational area and social hub for the community, and an attraction to visitors passing through.
"It would be packed," said Tom Kilroy, who worked as a lifeguard at the beach from 1961 to 1965. "I would say it wasn't unusual on a good summer day to have 75 to 100 kids there. And when you drove into town, that's the first thing people saw as far as action is concerned."
"I remember going there as a child and learning how to swim there," said Boyer. "It was very busy. In the mornings the water was cold and brisk - you had to swim. It was just a lot of fun."
Boyer and others also say the Lake Colby beach is located too far away from the center of town, which makes it harder for many kids to get there to swim. There are also no stores or lunch spots near the current beach where people can get supplies or a bite to eat, Boyer said.
"To walk down to Lake Colby or to get a ride out to Lake Colby is an inconvenience to a lot of people," Kilroy said. "I think you'd see a lot more families (at Lake Flower)."
"I think it would draw a lot of tourists," said village resident and local history buff Phil "Bunk" Griffin. "The motels are close to it. It's an easy walk from town and the businesses, whereas Lake Colby - they don't even know it's there."
Boyer started the Lake Flower Beach Return Facebook page in mid-May. Within 30 hours, 1,700 people had joined the group. Now it has 3,025 members. From that group, an eight-member committee has been formed to lead the beach return campaign. It had its first meeting last week at the former beach, of course.
Village officials have also caught notice of the effort.
"The mayor and village trustees welcome an effort to explore and plan for the possible return of the Lake Flower beach," village Trustee Paul Van Cott posted on the group's Facebook site June 13, describing it as something he heard often during this year's village election campaign.
"I actually recall, as a kid, going there," Van Cott told the Enterprise Monday. "It would be a prominent location for a beach. It may be good from a tourism and economic development standpoint. It might draw more people downtown and help our businesses."
"It could absolutely be a big economic generator," said village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. "If you go to other tourist communities that have a beach in the center of town, it's a big, happening spot. As it is now, the Lake Colby beach is a nice beach but it's on the periphery of the village, and it doesn't have that generation of traffic."
One of the key questions before anything can move forward, Van Cott said, is whether the water quality at the beach meets state Department of Health standards. Village staff took a water sample last week and have sent it off for analysis, he said.
If things progress, Van Cott said there are other issues to address, such as the cost of developing and maintaining the beach, plus parking and pedestrian access issues. Van Cott also said an engineering study would be necessary to determine the feasibility of restoring the beach on Lake Flower. And there's the question of what would become of the Lake Colby beach.
"That's part of the public discussion that would need to occur before we get too far along with moving the beach," Van Cott said.
Boyer admits there will be challenges, but he thinks they can be overcome. He said the committee could raise funds and seek volunteer labor to help offset some of the costs.
As for parking issues, Boyer said the state Department of Transportation, which maintains River Street as part of state Route 86, could be approached about allowing parking on the street like it does now for special events. A short fence could be put around the park to keep kids out of the street, and there are electronic crosswalks at nearby intersections, Boyer said.
He also said buoys could be placed in the water to keep motor boats away from the swimming area. Public bathrooms would be needed at the beach, per DOH regulations, but a beach house the size of the one at Lake Colby isn't needed, Boyer said.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "The village has jumped in on this and is willing to help. I'm hoping everything can connect, because it would be wonderful if it could happen."