Paul Price sat in the shade on the grassy shore with his daughter’s dog, Bodhi, as a breeze created waves at McIntosh Lake.
Bodhi was Price’s company for the day, Price said. The two enjoyed the warm weather, and Price took his kayak out for an afternoon paddle.
“This is my choice of any place to go,” he said. “Boulder Reservoir, forget about it. Union Reservoir — there’s mosquito issues there — forget about it. This is the spot.”
Price said he’s been driving to McIntosh Lake in Longmont from Boulder for about 20 years. Even though the lake has been there for decades, he still feels like it’s a hidden gem in the area.
“It’s surprising how many people in Longmont don’t know about it,” he said. “There are people that have lived in this area forever that don’t know.”
Last year, Price witnessed overcrowding at McIntosh Lake that impacted many lakes, parks or outdoor recreation areas throughout the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It wasn’t necessarily on the water last year,” he said. “It was surrounding (the area). On the paths. It was just people sitting or walking around the lake. People were just in droves. It was crazy.”
In addition to the overcrowding, homeowners in the area also complained about overflowing parking lots near the lake or increased parking on residential streets, people swimming in violation of the city prohibition against it, people failing to wear life jackets or other personal flotation devices while they’re on the wakeless boats on the lake, and trash spilling out of garbage cans.
In an effort to care for the lake and its surrounding areas, Longmont City Council voted unanimously in March to support annexing McIntosh Lake into Longmont. The 360.54-acre annexation included 280.26 acres owned by the McIntosh Lake Reservoir Company, including the reservoir itself and its adjacent shoreline. The city now owns 58% of the shares of the reservoir company and leases and manages the lake and surrounding shoreline for public recreational uses.
The city also agreed to hire four seasonal rangers to assist its full-time rangers with managing the lake and parks in the area, but so far only one full-time and one half-time ranger have been hired, said David Bell, the city’s Natural Resources manager.
“We had a hard time filling those positions,” he said. “We are pushing it in the budget. We will be asking for more staffing for our 42 parks and 100 miles of trail.”
Bell said he is also requesting funding to purchase a rescue boat or jet ski, a vehicle for rangers and laptops.
Great Outdoors Colorado has also provided the city with funding to install more boat launches, Bell said. There are two official launches at the lake, and three more will be added. Bell said they have not determined where the new launches will be placed.
“The public was creating a significant amount of social trails that were negatively impacting the vegetation and habitat, so these new boat launches will be located in less sensitive areas and designed in a more sustainable manner,” he said. “They will also be co-located with new signs that will remind users that they are required to have the appropriate personal flotation devices.”
Brendon Meili, community park ranger in Longmont, started working for the city in April. He is the new part-time employee hired but has been working 40 hours per week since he started.
Out of the 40 hours a week he works, Meili estimated he spends about 20 hours a week at McIntosh Lake.
“Right now, we are focusing on making sure people have life jackets on at McIntosh,” he said. “We are really focusing on education.”
Meili said he believes a large portion of the regulars at the lake didn’t know swimming wasn’t allowed or that life jackets were required until he started working for the city. He has not cited anyone though, he said. He just wants to educate people.
“Presence is a big thing,” he said. “I try to talk to people out there just so that they know that when we are out there we can be used as a resource.”
Meili said every day at the lake or surrounding trails, his work doesn’t seem to slow.
“It is a little overwhelming,” he said. “I am hoping to get some more staff to help out with that.”
Kirk Tylor, who lives near the lake in the 1700 block of Harbor Lane, said that so far the overcrowding this year is bad, just like it was last year.
“I was thinking there was supposed to be a limit to boats, and I was talking to my neighbor the other day and she counted 68 (boats),” he said. “A lot of surf-board like boats, kayaks and windsurfing.”
Tylor said his wife’s car has been struck twice by drivers visiting the lake.
“The parking is horrendous,” he said. “They park everywhere. We have met many of the people, and sometimes we ask them to move so we can park there. They will park on the sidewalk. They park right up against the fire hydrants. The police have been there.”
Every weekend Tylor and his wife clear out their bushes which have been littered with cans and other trash from people leaving the lake, he said.
“I think if they just charge for parking and give the local neighborhood free stickers to park I think that might cut down on it,” he said. “It’s just overwhelmed.”
On a warm, quiet recent weekday, Tara Hess and Hanne Vangsgaard sat in chairs at the lake while supervising a group of Girl Scouts.
Hess said she spent a lot of time walking around the lake last year and noticed the crowds of people at the parks. So far this season, the chaos and crowding seems to be waning, she said.
“The park has a playground, and there were lots of families,” she said. “I remember this because I was like ‘Oh my god look at all those people without masks.’ It’s really quite nice to know that you have a lake like this that you can go out on and it’s free.”