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Busy Vt. Beach Shut Down on Sweltering Weekend

New water tests Monday gave the all clear for the busiest beach in Burlington, Vermont, to reopen after a frustrating weekend when many beach-goers were turned away during an uncomfortable stretch of hot weather.

"Saturday was the largest bloom I've seen since starting here," recalled Alec Kaeding of the Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department.

Kaeding was referring to an explosion of cyanobacteria, often called blue green algae, that made North Beach look like someone replaced the water in Lake Champlain with pea soup.

In some cases, the blooms can produce harmful toxins — like the ones that recently killed two small dogs in a private pond in Stowe.

"We were disappointed," said traveler Christelle Bonin of Quebec, who came to Burlington specifically looking for a campground with lake access.

"We were excited to go swimming and do some paddleboards and stuff," added Bonin's sister, Kelly. "It was a bummer."

For years now, Vermonters have been talking about ways to protect against cyanobacteria, including reducing wastewater discharges, shoreline erosion, and runoff. They can all dump nutrients into the water that feed the blooms.

"I just think we have to keep chipping away at this," said Lauren Sopher of the Lake Champlain Committee, who was collecting water samples at North Beach Monday.

A new state law will also commit a billion dollars over 20 years to clean up the state's waterways.

Cathy Davis of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce knows the lake is a significant driver to what the Outdoor Industry Association said last year was an estimated $5.5-billion outdoor recreation sector in Vermont.

"That's why I think everyone in this region is so committed to making sure the lake stays healthy and accessible," Davis noted, adding that she thinks Vermont takes water quality more seriously than many other parts of the country.

While that mucky water washed away some of their weekend plans, the Bonin sisters were glad to see North Beach reopen Monday, and promised to give Lake Champlain another shot.

"It's not always like this, so we hope the next time will be better," Kelly Bonin said, smiling.

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