I moved to Olympia in January of 1985, apparently the summer after Capitol Lake was closed to swimming by the Health Department due to dangerous levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Consequently, I never did swim in the lake.
Today, as I walk around the margins of the lake its easy to see a decaying, eutrophying body of water, covered in dense mats of algae and invasive aquatic weeds. Its hard to imagine that kids once learned how to swim in Capitol Lake and adults sought relief from summer heat in its waters. I have always been surprised at “old timers” sense of nostalgia for the Capitol Lake of bygone days but the historical photo of the lake in last Sunday’s Olympian was illuminating. In this photo from 1968, Capitol Lake appears to be a veritable playground of aquatic fun, with swimming docks, diving boards, changing rooms, rafts, lifeguards and more. Now I can more easily understand the nostalgia.
Alas, I doubt that the Capitol Lake of 1968 is no more attainable than the small town feeling of a pre I-5 Olympia or the return of “I Dream of Jeanie” to the top of the TV ratings. I’m afraid those days are gone for good and its time to move forward, even as some fondly remember those golden days of yore.