The coronavirus has had an impact on the lives of Boulder County residents and people around the world. Now, neighbors who live near McIntosh Lake are seeing the virus take a different kind of toll.
Due to the pandemic, the city has not yet been able to put out a string of 15 buoys, connected by 500 feet of rope, that section off the lake protection zone on McIntosh’s northwest side. The protection zone, which is about the length of a football field, offers a haven to avian species, giving them undisturbed waters to hunt for fish and nest in the cattails near the shore. Without the buoys, residents who live near the lake have seen boaters, paddle boarders and fishers traversing the area, disturbing the natural habitat.
Dan Wolford, Longmont’s land program administrator, said on Wednesday four signs were installed around the lake, including the two boat docks on the north and south side of the lake and one in Flanders Park and Dawson Park. The signs ask boaters to respect birding habitats and remain within 300 yards of the northwest shore line. If they wish to see wildlife, the sign suggests using binoculars.
Wolford said the buoys, which have been installed in early spring since 2004, will still be put out on the lake, but the coronavirus has complicated the timeline.
“With COVID-19, the city determined it wasn’t safe to put city employees in the proximity to do that,” Wolford said, adding that the process takes at least two boats, a 19-foot Boston Whaler and 18-foot Lowe Johnboat, and four staff members to complete the task.
“Until the government relaxes regulations (on social distancing) or Boulder County Public Health, we are not going put those buoys up,” he said. “We felt it was not worth the risk of COVID-19 to any of the city’s employees.”
The buoys can’t be left on the water year round, because the winter ice can detach them from their chain and cause them to float off, Wolford said.
Jim Cook is among the Longmont residents who contacted the city after noticing the buoys weren’t in place this year. Cook has lived near McIntosh Lake for about 20 years and can see the water and shoreline from his front porch. It’s here where he has glimpsed great blue herons, ducks, white pelicans, geese and prairie dogs going about their daily life.
“If you’re going to call it a protected area, you need to protect it,” Cook said. “These guys don’t have anyone to defend their rights. Let them be and let them do their thing.”
With the coronavirus canceling numerous local events and many regular businesses and venues shuttered or only partially operational, more people have flocked to the city’s open spaces. Wolford said there have been upticks in visitor traffic at parks and open space across the city. Cook said he has seen roughly 10 times the number of people he normally sees at the lake. Cook’s neighbor Anne Boettcher, who has lived on the north side of the lake for about 26 years, also wrote to the city. Boettcher said she hopes to see the city take an educational approach so that people understand why respecting the lake protection zone matters. She said more signage would be a step in the right direction.
“I don’t think people intentionally disrespect the lake or wildlife,” Boettcher said. “I just don’t think they know.”
Boettcher said she has seen several examples in recent days of people bothering animals or disturbing the natural area. She described seeing a man and a dog on a paddle board in the lake protection zone. She said the man let his dog loose, which then chased a juvenile bird on the shore. She also saw people trampling through the cattails to get to the water’s edge and a woman, who went off the designated path, to spread out a picnic in an area where the prairie dogs live. If these actions continue, Boettcher said the consequences could be dire.
“The wildlife is part of what makes the lake enjoyable. If you scare them all away, we will only have a lake used by people,” she said.
Boettcher said Wolford responded to her letter to explain why the buoys have not yet been put out on the lake. Both Boettcher and Cook said they understand how the pandemic has complicated the situation.
Wolford, who sometimes walks the lake himself, said anecdotally he hasn’t seen too much impact to the wildlife. Recently, he said he spotted several species of birds, including great blue herons, pelicans and geese.
“I’m not going to say that’s an absolute, but my observation is those species are still utilizing the reservoir,” Wolford said.
Boettcher, however, said she thinks there has been a toll, noting that she hasn’t seen any seagulls lately and fewer numbers of other birds.
Boettcher and Cook have offered to volunteer to put out the buoys, but Wolford said the process isn’t that simple. It involves using two motorized boats and moving “numerous large buoys that are heavy.”
“Additionally, the buoys are stored off site at yet another location,” Wolford said. “With all of this in mind, this type of project is not very conducive for a volunteer effort. If they are willing to volunteer, I would much rather them educate their friends and neighbors about the importance of the wildlife habitat that we are all trying to protect and why the buoy line has not been placed yet this year.”