August 18, 2008

When It Comes to Beaches, Wilson-Tuscarora is Tops

By Miguel Rodriguez

When you're a precocious, awestruck 9-year-old visiting the beach for the first time, it's easy to think one of the Great Lakes is the ocean.

But there's no mistaking the fact that young Sarah Woolson had a ton of fun Tuesday during her trip to Wilson-Tuscarora State Park's beach.

She was mesmerized by the vastness of Lake Ontario and took delight in being able to see the skyscrapers in Toronto off in the distance across the lake. She climbed the small trees on the beach. She also walked from one end of the beach and back -- roughly a half- mile stretch -- with her grandmother, Pat, many times.

So what was the best part of Sarah's beach experience?

"Going by the water and picking up stones," said Sarah, who plans to give the smooth rocks and colorful pebbles she found to her mother back home in Dayton, Ohio, at the conclusion of her 10-day visit with her grandparents. "[It's] cool."

And that's just one of the many reasons beaches are attractive destinations -- especially since the beach season lasts roughly three to four months around here.

It's fun to play in the sand. It's nice to watch the sunset. It's cool to sunbathe.

And of course, there's the swimming -- which is a totally different experience in a fresh water lake than in a temperature- controlled, chlorinated pool.

The swimming tends to be the hit-or-miss portion of beach visits in Western New York, depending on levels of E. coli in Lakes Ontario or Erie. But Wilson-Tuscarora's beach has been spared the bacteria scares that have temporarily closed area beaches, including nearby Olcott Beach. As of press time, Wilson-Tuscarora hasn't had to turn swimmers away due to contaminated water.

According to park and beach manager John Devlin, Wilson- Tuscarora's beach hasn't gone through an entire season without closing once.

"Mother Nature has been good to us," Devlin said. "We haven't had that much rain compared to other places. Maybe we're just lucky."

Considering there have been more rain-filled days than rain-free ones since June 1, it's shocking that Wilson-Tuscarora hasn't had to disappoint any beach-goers.

Storm water typically accounts for 70 percent of the contaminants that close beaches in the state. Contaminants, like pesticides and wildlife waste, can enter the water through storm and sewer drains, thereby putting swimmers at risk of contracting an illness.

The state and county Departments of Health standard for closing beaches is 235 colonies of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water. Water is checked once a week, but if a beach happens to be closed due to excessive bacteria levels, testing then occurs daily, according to Tim O'Brien, head lifeguard at Olcott Beach.

While Wilson-Tuscarora seemingly has hit the jackpot, Olcott Beach, which is roughly 10 miles away along the same Lake Ontario shoreline, has closed four times this summer due to unsafe bacteria levels, including twice since July 13. Wilson-Tuscarora and Olcott are the only public beaches in Niagara County.

"We're lucky today we're allowed to swim," Pat Woolson said.

Woolson has brought each of her 10 grandchildren to Wilson- Tuscarora's beach at least once. She and her husband, Bob, also have made the trip from nearby Ransomville to the beach to watch sunsets while indulging in ice cream sodas.

Beaches aren't just visited by people without swimming pools. Michelle Gendrue of Gasport and Kevin Borth of Akron are pool owners, and both brought their families to the beach Tuesday.

Borth first checked out Olcott Beach, which he frequented 30 years ago as a teen, before opting for Wilson-Tuscarora. The Borth family usually hits the beach a few times a year, typically making the drive to Sherkston Beach in Canada, but opted to visit a spot closer to home during its first beach outing of this summer.

Borth's wife, Karen, said the beach provides an ambience that's difficult for the backyard pool to duplicate.

Gendrue, who brought her three daughters and their friends to the beach, agrees.

"You come here for the view, the water, the waves," said Gendrue, who visits beaches down South during family vacations. "This is a really clean beach. It's really nice, plus you have picnic tables and the park."

"It's so quiet and peaceful here," Pat Woolson said.

Olcott Beach is open from noon to 7 p.m. and admission is free. Wilson-Tuscarora is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. While use of the beach is free, cars are charged a $7 parking fee since it's a state park.


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Originally published by NIAGARA CORRESPONDENT.

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