Gunpowder Falls State Park officials closed the park's riverfront beach in Chase yesterday, noting test results that showed high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.
The beach, popular among picnickers, wind surfers and children in camp programs, was closed after a routine test showed bacteria above state standards, officials said.
"It's a precaution," said William E. Clarke, supervisor of recreational hygiene for the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. "Do I feel there is a public-health threat at this time? I wouldn't say that."
Gary Haslam, manager of the park's Hammerman area, said a decision on when the beach might reopen depends on the results of tests on additional samples that were taken yesterday.
Those results are expected to be available today, he said.
Officials of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said the high bacteria count was probably caused by high temperatures, runoff from rain and an increase in the park's waterfowl population.
Yesterday, nearly 100 geese lined the water's edge at the beach. Looking down from the park's small boardwalk, Haslam said, "You can walk down and see what the geese leave behind. When there's heavy rain, it all ends up in the Gunpowder."
Fecal coliform, bacteria found in warm-blooded animals, can cause stomach disorders, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in swimmers and others who come into contact with high levels of it.
In 1997, high levels prompted Baltimore County officials to close Middle River's Miami Beach from July through the end of the summer.
Clarke said the beach at Gunpowder has had no water-quality problems in recent memory.
The decision to close the beach was based on test results from a monthly sampling of water, which was taken Aug. 2. Clarke said the samples averaged 1,500 colonies of bacteria per 100 milliliters, exceeding the state standard of 200 colonies per sample.
Park and environmental officials said they have received no reports of swimmers becoming ill.
The closing does not affect Dundee Creek Marina or other areas of the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls.
Yesterday, the beach at the Hammerman area was virtually empty.
Four busloads of children arrived at the park, then went looking for other places to swim when they learned that the beach was closed, Haslam said.
Patty Kline, a 35-year-old driver at a retirement home, was the only person to spread her blanket on the sand. Although disappointed to learn of the swimming ban, the White Marsh woman was content to work on her tan.
"I'd rather be safe than have them tell us later," she said.
Leonid Zajcevski, who swam at the beach Tuesday, said he had experienced no symptoms of illness but that "it makes you wonder if you want to go swimming here at all."
Zajcevski and his family, along with friends, returned to the park yesterday but settled for a picnic of grilled chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers.
Brian Lowry, a 21-year-old family friend, said he was disappointed that the beach had been closed. "Ain't nothing like going in the water after you work up a sweat," he said.
Although wind surfers were barred from the water, about six kayakers took to the river, said Justin Miller, manager of Ultimate Watersports' rental facility at the park. He said the business hopes the beach will be reopened for the weekend, when two company outings are planned.
He said the Baltimore Area Boardsailing Association plans a race Sunday that is expected to attract about 30 wind surfers.
Haslam said it is "crucial" that the beach be reopened for the weekend, when thousands of swimmers typically hit the sand.
"This is the focal point of the park during the midsummer," he said."