In a rare move, Colorado Parks and Wildlife temporarily closed the Rock Canyon Swim Beach below the dam at Lake Pueblo State Park on Wednesday after a routine water quality test revealed unusually high bacteria levels.
No one was on the swim beach Wednesday afternoon when the closure was announced because it's a normal day off for the beach. Typically, Rock Canyon is open Thursday through Mondays.
It will remain closed throughout the long holiday weekend and CPW staff will monitor the water quality daily until follow-up testing can occur next week.
Park staff follow a stringent water quality testing protocol established by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to protect public safety. According to CDPHE and CPW rules, the natural swimming area at Rock Canyon, which sits along the Arkansas River, must be closed any time a test sample show greater than 235 E-coli per 100 ml.
Park Manager Monique Mullis said the exact reason for the spike in bacteria levels is unknown. She suggested recent rain events and a jump in river flows due to increased snowmelt runoff washed contaminants into the swim beach.
"We realize that right before the 4th of July holiday is a terrible time for this to happen and for the beach to be closed," Mullis said. "But we will not take chances on the health and safety of our visitors."
Follow-up test results are expected back early next week. At that time, a decision will be made to reopen the swim beach or extend the closure.
Rock Canyon is popular with campers and area residents and boasts a recently renovated bathhouse with restrooms, changing stations and outdoor showers. There are large covered picnic areas and grills for use.
The beach is important to park visitors because swimming is not allowed elsewhere in the lake. Only wading is permitted in the lake. Cliff-diving is also strictly prohibited.
Typically, the beach is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays through Mondays, until Labor Day. It is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There is no extra fee for the beach, but an $8 daily park pass is required on every vehicle that enters the park.