OAKLAND — The town has been forced to close the swimming area at the waterfront park after a sample of the lake water tested positive for a high level of E. coli, apparently marking the latest episode in the community’s ongoing struggle with goose droppings plaguing the public beach.

Town Manager Gary Bowman said the high temperature this week has exacerbated the problem involving the goose waste, probably causing the outbreak of E. coli, which are coliform bacteria commonly found in the lower intestines in humans and other animals and can be harmful if ingested.

“There’s been concern with the heat recently. I think that is what’s caused the bacteria to explode,” Bowman said in an interview Tuesday. “The whole scenario is a perfect storm for it.”

The town hadn’t received any reports of people becoming sick after swimming in the lake, according to Bowman, but he said they knew an E. coli outbreak could be a possibility and decided to have the town engineer run a test after the heat worsened.

“With the water temperature rising, it’s almost an incubation point for the bacteria,” Bowman said.

The beach area was closed off to swimmers and sunbathers Tuesday as the temperature again reached 90 degrees.

About 33 geese visit the park each day, Bowman said. The gaggle travels from the water to the grassy area, where they eat and subsequently defecate, in and around the beach area.

“We have an employee every morning raking up the goose poop,” Bowman said.

The large number of geese that have made the public beach and boat launch on Messalonskee Lake their home has proved to be a constant challenge to Oakland residents for years. In 2014, some Canada geese were euthanized after the town called the Maine office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service because people had complained about the goose waste at the popular spot for swimmers – which in turn sparked some outrage from the public, with some likening the act to “mass murder” of “innocent animals.”

Bowman said euthanizing the glut of geese is not an option that he is at all considering as a way to stem the population.

“You have to find a way to work with them,” he said.

Over the years, Bowman said, the town has looked for ways to shoo away the geese, including using pesticides and herbicides on the grass, planting a predatory decoy fox and destroying batches of geese eggs, but none of them seemed like long-term solutions.

“If anyone has any ideas on how to move them away, they should let me know,” Bowman said. “And the goose manure is a problem, but the E. coli issue is more of a problem.”

Maureen Ackerman, 53, was among the dismayed residents who had been hoping to find some relief from the heat at the beach Tuesday.

“Out of all of the days,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m kind of disappointed that they closed down.”

She said the closure was a “bummer,” as she had brought a picnic lunch for her daughter and her grandson to enjoy on the beach. Ackerman said they had been swimming at the waterfront park just last week and noticed a large number of geese nearby.

“There were about 20 of them out here last week,” she said before leaving with her family to find another place to swim.

Bowman said he doesn’t know exactly when the beach will reopen to the public. He said he thinks this is the first time the town had to close the beach because of E. coli, because the lake generally flushes out rather quickly, comparing the body of water to a small river.

If the weather cools down in the next several days – the forecast calls for high temperatures in the low 80s for the rest of the week – Bowman said that will help the water return to normal.

“We just got to get away from this 90-degree weather,” he said.

The town has not put out an advisory to the town about swimming and boating in the rest of the lake. He said if waterfront residents want to have the water near their homes tested, they can call Northeast Laboratory Services.

“If (people) decide to get in the water, it’s swimming at their own risk at this point,” he said.

The town will test the water again next week, and if it tests negative for high levels of E. coli, the beach will reopen.

In the meantime, Bowman said, residents can swim at Pleasant Point Park on McGraw Pond.

“There’s no geese over there.”

Emily Higginbotham can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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Twitter: EmilyHigg

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