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Main Beach closes due to high bacteria levels

CRYSTAL LAKE – Two large plastic decoy birds were the only things floating in the water at Main Beach this weekend.

The Crystal Lake Park District beach, at 300 Lake Shore Drive, was closed because of high bacteria levels since Friday. The closure, which frustrated some, came amid a record-breaking heat wave and during what is traditionally one of the busiest beach weekends of the summer.

Visitors who hauled towels, toys and children to Main Beach for a swim were directed to nearby West Beach, at 2330 Lake Ave. in Lakewood. The few who remained at Main Beach despite the swim ban had a peaceful, nearly empty beach to themselves.

Main Beach remained closed for swimming Sunday.

The McHenry County Department of Health had issued a swimming advisory earlier in the week after water samples showed elevated E. coli bacteria levels.

The health department tests the county's 37 licensed beaches on 13 lakes every two weeks in the summer for E. coli bacteria to determine water quality and prevent illnesses linked to swimming.

Health department employees retested the water at Main Beach on Sunday morning, said Jason Herbster, Crystal Lake Park District executive director. Depending on the results, Main Beach may reopen Monday, he said.

West Beach was packed most of the weekend. Lifeguards and staff members there said it was the busiest week of the summer so far.

In 2011, the park district’s two beaches – West Beach and Main Beach – were closed once because of high levels of E. coli. There were at least 17 E. coli closures in 2010. The E. coli problems in 2010 were caused by waterfowl, and the park district took steps to keep the birds away from the beaches.

The Chicago Park District began using a new system for testing water quality at its beaches this season, according to the Chicago Tribune. Test results are posted online that allow beachgoers to decide what they are comfortable swimming in. The Chicago Park District said it would close beaches only for water contamination because of sewer overflows, the Tribune reported.

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