Portage Lakes State Park will post more advisory signs when testing shows high bacterial counts at Turkeyfoot Lake, the park’s manager said Friday.
On Thursday, Massillon resident Tamara “Tami” Mackey blamed tainted waters at Turkeyfoot Lake for a bacterial-fungal infection she developed after swimming in the waters on four consecutive days.
Mackey said no signs were posted during her visits to the lake.
But Michael Studeny, who runs the state park that houses the lake, begs to differ.
In an interview Friday, Studeny said park staff posted signs immediately following a test showing abnormally high counts of E.coli in the swimming waters of Turkeyfoot Lake. Results from the July 17 test showed 686 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters in the waters — well above the state maximum of 235 cfu/ml. When the results came on July 19, Studeny said five signs were posted and were not removed until further testing this week showed E.coli counts below the state threshold.
“The signs were posted by our maintenance coordinator on the 19th through Tuesday the 30th,” Studeny said. “We removed them ourselves on the 30th; the signs hadn’t been touched since then.”
Studeny said officers at the beach observed the signs during the time Mackey says they weren’t posted.
“We post the signs in the beach grass [that] meets the beach,” Studeny said. “You don’t step on sand without [seeing the signs].”
The park manager, however, said that an individual approaching the swimming area from a section of the beach with volleyball courts might not see the text of the warning. They would see the signs from the beach, but the warnings are only posted on the grass approach.
“You would see the back of the sign,” Studeny said. “[But] we’re trying to catch people before they reach the beach swimming area.”
Mackey said Friday, however, that she passed the grassy zone before the beach and would not have been able to walk the full distance from the volleyball courts.
“There was no way those signs were up,” she said. “Had there been signs, I could have made a choice.”
Studeny said that thousands of people roamed the beach and waters of Turkeyfoot Lake during events after July 19, and he has had no reports — beyond Mackey’s — of illness from the water.
On July 20, the park hosted an estimated 4,000 people for the seventh annual Dragons on the Lake Dragon Boat Festival, Studeny said. Another event on July 27 probably drew 1,000 park visitors.
Eric Heis, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the agency wants swimmers to be aware of potential health threats.
He suggests people — especially older individuals and those with weakened immune systems — check the department’s beach guard website. Testing results are posted there for beach areas around the state, including Turkeyfoot Lake.
Heis said that individuals with questions about any state waters can call his department at 614-799-9538 for information before visiting a swimming area.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.