Cowans Gap park reopens to boating, fishing

swimming still prohibited

August 23, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania departments of Conservation and Natural Resources and Health announced Tuesday that fishing and boating again are permitted at the lake at Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County.

The lake remains closed to swimming, according to a DCNR news release.

"Today's decision to reopen the lake to certain activities follows an intensive two-week investigation and widespread water testing that failed to uncover the presence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7)," the release said.

The bacterium was linked to at least 15 cases of serious illness among people who reported swimming in the lake in July.

"As always, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources wants to ensure safe and responsible use of our natural resources," DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan said in the news release. "By working with the departments of Health and Environmental Protection, we are confident that we can again allow some of the activities that our visitors most enjoy at Cowans Gap State Park."

The Aug. 9 decision to close the lake came after an unusually high number of illnesses of E. coli O157:H7 were identified in people who reported swimming in the lake in mid- to late-July.

Until Tuesday, all activities where visitors came in contact with the 42-acre lake were suspended, including swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other boating, the release said.

The park remained open to hiking, camping and other activities.

"After fully investigating and doing interviews with those who became ill with E. coli 0157, it was determined all illnesses resulted specifically from swimming," said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila in the news release. "Therefore, we feel confident that there is no current public health threat associated with the other recreational activities at the lake."

Health officials still caution individuals against drinking untreated lake water. Before consumption, fish should be cooked and proper hygiene for handling all raw meat should be followed, the release said.

There is no current evidence that potable water in the park has played any role in the E. coli O157:H7 problem, according to the release. However, Aug. 15 testing showed the presence of E. coli in raw, untreated water in one of the park's two wells.

Though testing did not indicate the toxic strain of the bacterium, E. coli O157:H7, the well was shut down temporarily; large-scale chlorination was undertaken; and a two-day precautionary boil-water advisory was initiated at the park at the direction of the Department of Environmental Protection, the release said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection joined DCNR and Department of Health officials in an investigation that  included widespread sampling of the lake and park's potable water; inspection of water and sewer lines; and contact with other park agencies across the nation, the release said.

None of the tests has shown a presence of E. coli O157:H7, according to the release.

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