Visitors who braved Grand Lake survive algae
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
7/06/11 at 4:29 PM
Rick Littlefield sat in the tiny, windowless office of his Grand Lake convenience store Monday, recounting with a laugh the wild rumors his customers carried through the doors over the Fourth of July weekend.
"The best," said Littlefield, owner of Littlefield Country Corner at the entrance of Monkey Island, "was that they were going to drain the lake, then let it dry for three weeks and then refill it."
That never happened, of course. The lake is still full of water. And although warnings from the Grand River Dam Authority about the presence of potentially harmful blue-green algae surely kept people away from the popular resort area, those who did make the trip said Monday they had a wet and wonderful time.
"We're doing pretty good; we haven't died yet," said Derrick Stephens, 19, of Sapulpa. "Everybody that was here Thursday is here now."
By "everybody," Stephens meant himself and 23 other friends and family - some from Sapulpa and others from Claremore - who set up trailers at Bernice State Park a week ago to ensure that they would have a spot over the holiday weekend.
The preparation - and extra cost - turned out not to be necessary. The GRDA's recommendation that visitors to the lake avoid contact with the water left the park far from full over the weekend.
That worked out just fine for Stephens and his companions, who left their campsite and headed for deeper waters - where the algae was less likely to be present - in a sleek black-and-yellow Master Craft boat.
They swam. They picnicked. They watched fireworks.
"We have had a great time," said Valerie Henegar of Claremore. "We have loved it. Saturday we had the whole lake to ourselves."
Henegar has spent the last 20 Fourth of Julys at home, pouring money and sweat into a big bash. This year, she took her money and bought a trailer.
With four children in tow, she was not about to have the weekend spoiled by a little algae.
The naturally occurring life form is common in lakes and is usually not a danger to humans. However, strains carry toxins that can cause intestinal and respiratory problems in humans and animals if ingested in large quantities.
"We did try to be cautious," she said. "We didn't want to be stupid."
So, Henegar said, the kids were allowed in the deep water, with one admonishment: "Close your eyes and hold your nose when you jump in."
The owners and operators of businesses along the lake's 1,300 miles of shoreline sounded no less resilient Monday. Many even found it in them to make light of the steady stream of costly natural disasters that has beset the community recently: heavy snowfall in February, tornadoes in May, and now this.
Judy Florida, general manager of Harbors View Marina at Duck Creek, had Koozies made up before the algae surfaced. They read, "Grand Lake Survivor 2011: Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of tornado can keep Grand Lakers from our appointed fun!"
Cracking a big smile, she handed one more out Monday, saying: "The only thing I could have done better is put blue-green algae (on) it."
Business nearly slowed to a halt over the weekend at Pistol Pat's drive-in restaurant, an institution in Disney for decades.
To lighten the mood, owners Tom and Monica Fields took to showing select customers a clear container full of blue and green liquid.
To the untrained eye, settled blue raspberry dip might pass for blue-green algae. Which was exactly the point.
"I've showed a few people, mostly friends," said Tom Fields. "They've believed it 100 percent.
"We had to laugh about it. It about put us out of business."
The health-related impact of the blue-green algae, at least over the holiday weekend, has turned out to be far less devastating.
As of late Monday, no illnesses related to the outbreak had been reported.
It's a bit of good news that Littlefield, the convenience store owner, and other business owners on the lake expect to hear more of with the passage of time.
"We are going to roll with the punches," Littlefield said. "Folks are going to be back."
Original Print Headline: Visitors to Grand survive weekend
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313
Derrick Stephens (left) and Darin Tolliver, both of Sapulpa, fire up the grill Monday morning at Bernice State Park. JOEY JOHNSON / For the Tulsa World
Valerie Henegar and her son Lane, 9, of Claremore, stand next to their trailer. Henegar and her four children spent the holiday weekend at Grand Lake. Photos by JOEY JOHNSON / For the Tulsa World