TOWNSHEND -- Swimming finally has returned to Townshend Lake Recreation Area after the completion of long-awaited dredging work related to Tropical Storm Irene.
But anyone looking to take a dip in the lake should do so soon: Officials say the recreation area will be open only for a few more weeks before closing for the season.
"There's not a whole lot of time left, but it's something we had to get done," said Dale Berkness, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-maintained Townshend and Ball Mountain dams.
While the Townshend Lake Recreation Area has remained open to the public, there has been no swimming allowed since Irene struck in August 2011.
Water quality has not been an issue, officials have said. But the storm's severe flooding decreased the swim area's depth, leaving it unsafe and unusable.
Officials originally had hoped to get the dredging work done in June and to open the lake for swimming sometime around the beginning of summer.
But the work -- which required drawing down the lake -- was weather-dependent, and the weather never cooperated.
"The rain kept us from it all summer," Berkness said.
"This was the third time that we had attempted it," Berkness said. "We had almost nine inches of rain here in June. We had high flows almost all summer long."
Officials finally were able to reduce water levels on Aug. 5, and work proceeded quickly: The dredging contractor was finished by Aug. 8, Berkness said.
A water-quality test was performed on Tuesday.
"We found out Wednesday that it had passed," Berkness said.
The swimming area opened Thursday for the first time in nearly two years. It's a little smaller than it had been before the storm, but Berkness believes swimmers will return to Townshend Lake.
"We've been getting calls all summer -- people wondering when it was going to be open," he said.
Berkness said the recreation area is expected to close Sept. 1, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. So there will be swimming for less than three weeks.
And for much of the remaining season, those who travel to Townshend Lake won't be able to take the usual route.
Crews have started maintenance on the Townshend Lake Bridge off Route 30, Berkness said. The project -- which includes bolt replacement, redoing concrete approaches and guardrail work -- is expected to keep the span shut for a few weeks.
"People do have to go around on State Forest Road for the detour," Berkness said. "It's a little farther."
State Forest Road can be accessed off Route 30 near the Newfane/Townshend line, just north of the River Bend Lodge before crossing the West River.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.