Memorial Day weekend usually marks the first opportunity of the year to break out that tattered ol’ “Life’s A Beach!” T-shirt.
This year, though, a more appropriate slogan might be “Where’s the Beach?”
Unusually deep snowpack and unseasonably warm temperatures have combined in recent weeks to raise area lake levels and swallow up favorite swimming spots.
Last week, Sandpoint parks director Maurice Dunn was wondering if he might lose not only the sandy areas at City Beach, but the entire parking lot, as well.
“It hasn’t done that in my tenure, and I’ve been here 18 years,” Dunn said, “but I heard it happened in the early ‘70s.”
Meanwhile, only a sliver of sand remained above water at Coeur d’Alene City Beach.
“It’s not real safe swimming right now,” cautioned city recreation director Steve Anthony. “People are used to a gradual beach. Instead, it’s a pretty good drop-off and it’s cold!”
Elsewhere on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Anthony said, “There’s probably not a single beach that’s not underwater.”
Ironically, visitors to Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area may encounter just the opposite problem - a lack of water. That’s because the lake was drained in anticipation of heavy runoff, and it’s still 60 feet below “full pool.”
Dan Hand, director of visitor services, said all recreational facilities are open, but swimmers may have to hike to reach the water’s edge.
“Spring Canyon is still excellent,” Hand said. “Porcupine Bay is excellent, Evans is good. But in the northern part of the park, where you have much more severe angles down to the water - places like Fort Spokane - those will be less accessible for swimming because of drop-off.”
Hand also predicted water temperatures will be cooler than normal. “What we’re missing in many cases are those shallow pools that tend to be warmer,” he said.
The water level at Liberty Lake just east of Spokane is slightly higher than normal, and still cold, according to Spokane County Parks recreation supervisor Randy Johnson.
“But all the ice-storm and winter damage has been dealt with,” he said.
Lifeguards won’t start patrolling Liberty and Bear lakes in Spokane County until the second week of June. The same is true of the city beaches in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
But the fun officially begins this weekend, with a free outdoor recreation expo and demonstrations at Sandpoint’s City Beach (assuming there is a Sandpoint City Beach). Coeur d’Alene plans a parade, fireworks and a food fair at City Beach, and kids can try out the new Fort Sherman Playground.
Lake Roosevelt will continue rising about one foot a day, reaching full pool sometime in July.
Spokane County will have new paddle boats for rent at Bear Lake once lifeguards are on duty. Bear and Liberty lakes both charge a $2 admission fee (children under 6 admitted free). Or families can pay $75 for a season pass.
Priest Lake still has remnants of the 15 feet of snow that dumped there last winter. But Memorial Day Weekend will be celebrated with Saturday night fireworks and a Sunday morning (9:30 a.m.) fun run, both at Coolin.
“We lost more than 100 trees over Thanksgiving,” reported Missy Hill of Hill’s Resort. “But we’re back to normal, and the flowers are blooming.”
And the water?
“It’s higher than I’ve seen it in at least 15 years,” she said. “And it’s freezing. I got in the other day up to my knees and had to get out. But my 5-year-old went underwater and swam. Go figure …”