SALEM, N.H. — Hedgehog Pond, the town's only public beach with lifeguards, was packed yesterday morning with people ready to dive in and beat the heat. But the water was off-limits.
The state issued a cyanobacteria advisory late Wednesday for the popular swimming spot and the town closed the pond — leading to plenty of phone calls from hot, would-be swimmers.
"What's difficult is a lot of people are hot and are looking for ways of cooling off," Recreation Director Christopher Dillon said. "It would be nice to have the facility open so they could cool off, but we also want them to be able to do that and not risk getting sick."
Cyanobacteria can produce toxins that cause chronic health risks and can affect the nervous system, liver or skin. Drinking or swimming in water where there is cyanobacteria can cause potentially fatal illnesses, especially in children and dogs.
When Salem health officer Brian Lockard received the test results from the state, he hit the beach and posted signs warning beach-goers the water was off-limits. Lifeguards stayed on the beach during the day, letting people know to stay out of the pond.
"Brian did take additional samples first thing this morning and we should know (Friday) morning how we did," Dillon said.
The samples are being analyzed in Concord (N.H.). Dillon said he hoped they would show decreased levels of cyanobacteria so the beach could reopen today.
"A lot of times high readings come from runoff when it rains," Dillon said. "Obviously, that's not the case here."
The pond has only been closed for cyanobacteria once since Dillon has worked in Salem, he said, and that was after heavy rain.
"Hedgehog traditionally has tested pretty well," he said.
Over the last several days, with temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, the pond has been extremely popular with swimmers.
"When (Lockard) went down to take the readings, the place was packed," Dillon said. "With the heat we have been experiencing, it has been a busy place."
There is just one other public swimming beach in Salem, on Millville Lake, but there are no lifeguards there. Salem swimmers also can turn to the Boys & Girls Club pool, available to the public during certain hours of the day.
Even those with private beach access were out of luck yesterday — the Arlington Pond Improvement Association beach also has high enough levels of cyanobacteria to receive a state advisory.
The closure of the beach at Hedgehog Pond comes as Hedgehog Park is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. The park is in the midst of a major upgrade; a new skate park is set to open there later this month, along with a farmers market.
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