On the eve of a busy summer holiday weekend, Orchard Park’s Green Lake got shallower and shallower.
The lake receded by about 6 feet Thursday.
Somebody, it turned out, left the dam open.
The floating island called “Splash Mountain” was not so much floating as it was resting on the lake bottom.
And, as temperatures rise for the next few days, people may have to settle for paddle boating and toe dipping.
“It’s a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you don’t situation,” Thomas Ostrander, the town’s municipal engineer, said of his decision to drain water from the lake. “I did what I had to do to minimize property damage.”
After Wednesday’s rains, some residents worried about flooding.
So Ostrander said he decided to leave the dam open through the night.
When he made the decision, the lake was already 2 feet higher than it was supposed to be. The dam, designed in the early 1900s, is in the midst of being redesigned so it can be rebuilt to hold more water.
But until that happens, rising lake water can overflow the dam and threaten to cover Route 20A in water, Ostrander said.
But the rain stopped Wednesday afternoon after the engineers went home. More water drained than anyone expected.
By Thursday morning, Councilman Mike Sherry was surprised to see a skinny-looking lake on his way to the Recreation Department.
“That was the first thing that was discernible as soon as you pulled in,” he said. “It’ll fill back up, but it’s a matter of how long that’s going to take.”
Recreation Department Director Ed Leak felt the water level was too low to guarantee holiday weekend swimming.
He called off the lifeguards and ruled out weekend swimming.
“Officially, you cannot go into the water,” Leak said.
“The timing was certainly unfortunate,” he said.
The lake started in the early 1900s when businessman Harry Yates, who owned the land, dammed a tributary of Smoke’s Creek to have ice to harvest in the days before refrigeration.
He would later donate it to Orchard Park, which has added amenities like “Splash Mountain,” a dock and boat rentals.
Children come to swim and play at summer camps held here. Daily park attendance averages 100 to 150 people, Leak said.
On a holiday weekend, like July Fourth, numbers can climb to 200.
When Ostrander drove by Thursday afternoon, prospects looked better, he said.
The lake seemed to be filling up quickly. He counted about six children playing in the water and climbing on the inflated mound that is Splash Mountain.
“By Saturday or Sunday, the lake should be up,” he said.