Right at the heart of campus lays our very own Westhampton Lake. Every student has walked along its shore or across its body, absorbing its tranquility and beauty. At night, you can always find someone leaning backwards over the ledge of the Commons looking at Upside-down Lake, the phenomenon where, when you look at the lake upside-down, the reflection in the water is so exact that it appears to be real. However, there is more to Westhampton Lake than meets the eye.
Last Wednesday, we took a little field trip to take a closer look at the body of water we thought we knew so well. Our first stop was the inflow of the lake, a slow-flowing river known as Little Westham. From my research this summer, where I surveyed the lake’s outflow for freshwater sponges, I guess I knew that there must have been an inflow. Like many others, however, I never really took the time to look for it. Until now, I have been one of those students who walks past the lake everyday on the way to class and fails to fully appreciate the lake.
Since then I have thought about what else I “know” about the lake. I know it is man-made, once the home to a fantastic amusement park in the early 1900’s. I know it is home to a variety of wildlife – geese and ducks are the obvious, but it is also home to snapping turtles, fish, and one resident blue heron. I know that when there used to be a gate separating the two colleges, guys used to swim across the lake after curfew to meet up with their girlfriends after hours.
What I didn’t know about the lake is that it is also fed by countless pipes and drains that funnel runoff from parking lots and sidewalks directly into the lake. This runoff has no time to be absorbed into the surrounding soil, but instead drags chemicals from fertilizer, oil, fowl feces, and other pollutants into the lake.
What I didn’t know was that our lake has had reports of health concerns for having a substantial amount of E. Coli in its water (at recently as 1995). These health concerns mean that the lake does not meet swimming health standards, hence the ban on swimming in the lake in 1976 (also a little known fact).
What I didn’t know was that our lake is not only a dumping site for silt and sand that comes from upstream, but also apparently for Volkswagens (three of which have been found in the lake over the years), patio furniture, traffic cones, and a plethora of Green Bikes (some of which are still in the lake).
But what surprised me the most was that 4 students have drowned in the lake.
I think a lot of UR students take the lake for granted and don’t take the time to appreciate it and learn more about it. Hopefully during the rest of my time here at UR, I can learn to make the effort to look just a little bit closer, explore areas of campus that I have never seen, and learn as much as I can about the surrounding environment.
For more information, I direct you to these two Collegian articles: Westhampton Lake holds surprising finds (http://thecollegianur.com/2010/02/04/westhampton-lake-holds-surprising-finds/10467/) and Dispelling the myths of Westhampton Lake (http://thecollegianur.com/2011/01/27/dispelling-the-myths-of-westhampton-lake/16832/).