After boy's death, water festival will go on at Lake Minnewaska

Lake Minnewaska
It's been less than two weeks since Hunter Boutain, the 14-year-old boy infected by an apparent brain-swelling amoeba while swimming in Lake Minnewaska, died. Since his death, the Minnesota Department of Health has ruled the lake, located near Starbuck, Minn., in Polk County, safe for swimmers.
Tim Post | MPR News 2006

Glenwood's 60th annual Waterama festival starts Tuesday and usually draws 50,000 visitors for a week of events on the shores of Lake Minnewaska in western Minnesota.

But it's been less than two weeks since a 14-year-old boy died of a brain infection after swimming in that lake, and Waterama planner Ted Hill said people are still nervous about the water.

"I'd be lying if I said we aren't concerned that our numbers might be down this year," he said.

The boy, identified by his family as Hunter Boutain, was apparently infected by a brain-swelling amoeba, which lives in the sediments of fresh water lakes. Health officials at the University of Minnesota Medical Center believe the amoeba entered through his nose while he was swimming.

Since his death, the Minnesota Department of Health ruled Minnewaska safe for swimmers. The amoeba lives in many lakes and infections are incredibly rare.

But the bad press might still affect festival attendance.

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"People sort of panicked," said Glenwood Mayor Scott Formo.

Locals are just now wading back into the lake, and Hill said people from out of town might stay home.

Hill said the name of the festival might exacerbate the problem. Waterama implies a lot of water related activities, but most of the festival takes place on dry land.

A group of champion water skiers will perform on Minnewaska. Fewer than 30 people will compete in swimming races. Hill said those events are a small part of the festival.

"If you're concerned about the lake," he said, "don't go in the lake. There's still a lot to do at Waterama."