Stillwater's Lily Lake to remain closed to swimmers this summer - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Stillwater's Lily Lake to remain closed to swimmers this summer

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A popular lake in Stillwater, Minn., will not be open to swimmers this season, and city leaders say it's for good reason: Two children died of rare amoeba infections after swimming there.

The city says it has no choice but to keep Lily Lake close because there is still no clear answer as to why a young boy last summer. Mayor Ken Harycki told FOX 9 News shutting down the lake is the right thing to do, and a still-grieving father agrees.

"He loved playing hockey and going camping and stuff," Jim Ariola said. "He got cheated out of all that."

As the one-year anniversary of his son's death approaches, Ariola says the community needs to do what it can to protect children.

"I just don't want it to happen to any other kids," Ariola told FOX 9 News.

Ariola admits he still struggles with the fact that Jack is gone.

"I miss him," he said. "Jack's got a brother, sister -- a lot of loving family and friends."

The Minnesota Department of Health found that Jack Ariola's death was caused by a rare amoeba found after swimming at Lily Lake in August. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and causes a rare but severe form of meningitis.

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis, also known as PAM, is an extremely rare illness caused by an organism known as Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic amoeba that is commonly found in warm freshwater and soil across the world.

Two years before Jack Ariola died, a 7-year-old girl died from the same infection after swimming in Lily Lake. Now, the city says it wants answers before allowing swimmers to return.

"We're in uncharged water with this," Harycki said. "We're trying to feel it out. There's a pending lawsuit so nobody wants to say too much. So, we're left scrambling for answers."

That's why the City Council voted to keep the beach closed for the season during their Tuesday meeting.

"We just felt it was the prudent thing to do, close the beach until we have more information," Harycki said.

The lake won't be closed completely, but Ariola said he's glad the city is trying to keep swimmers out.

"I'm glad they are finally doing something about it," he said.

The dock on Lily Lake will remain open for fishing, and boating will still be allowed --a small consolation for the homeowners who told the mayor they are concerned about what could happen to their property values.

"I don't know if there are any answers," Harycki admitted. "What we're hearing is: It's natural. It occurs in most lakes and certain circumstances, certain water temperatures tend to trigger it and make it potentially more fatal."

According to Harycki, the City Council did discuss closing the lake permanently but instead chose to keep it shuttered to swimming for the season and reexamine their options next year.

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