Five years ago, Ellis Lake had deteriorated to an all-time low. The trademark fountain wasn’t working, the paddleboats had been removed, and a horrific tragedy had brought an end to the Independence Day fireworks show.
On the other side of the bridge, the north end of the lake was barren and stagnant. The picnic area consisted of graffiti covered tables and broken light posts sitting on a plot of dead-yellow crab grass.
Throughout the lake, litter and algea had collected at the base of the surrounding cobblestone walkway. The walkway itself was spotted with droppings, narrow, and leaning inward, as if to dump the patrons of Ellis Lake into the murky cesspool below.
“I used to go there,” says Juanita Rathbun, a former Yuba College student, “but I got tired of playing hopscotch with the duck poop on the sidewalk.”
Between 2002 and 2004, three dead people were found in Ellis Lake. All of them had drowned-alcohol was involved in some cases – but the greasy pollution and slippery algae were implicated in all three cases as an obstacle that may have contributed to the deaths.
In 2004, lifelong Marysville residents and concerned city officials had seen enough. The community organization Help Ellis Lake Prosper (HELP) was founded to raise donations for improving the lake.
The following year, Ellis Lake’s fountain was restored with funds raised by HELP and the Marysville Exchange Club.
2006 saw the construction of a new boat ramp, and improvements to the cracked and deteriorating walkway.
In the same year, steel bridges and a handicap access ramp were added, along with new picnic tables and a flagpole. The Watermarke Retail Complex was also constructed at the south-east corner of the lake.
Many future improvement projects have been planned, including installing new light fixtures, and creating a pipeline to provide Ellis Lake with freshwater from the Yuba River.
Another pipeline would be created to allow the lake to drain into Jack Slough, which runs into the Feather River.
David Lamon, the head of Marysville’s City Services Department, says Ellis Lake is in a stage of recovery and improvement, but Marysville’s tight budget situation is preventing any further rejuvenation projects from taking place until the statewide budget crunch is resolved.
Lamon is concerned about many of the pollution and technical problems with Ellis Lake. One such concern is the litter that collects at the corner of the lake near
Ninth and D Street. This is due to a north wind that pushes floating garbage in that direction.
The problem could be fixed, says Lamon, by modifying the angle of the corner into a more elongated curve, making it less attractive to litter.
The walkways are also an area of concern for Lamon. They’re not wide enough for people to walk side by side safely; However, Marysville doesn’t have the money to widen the sidewalk. Also, the overpopulation of geese and ducks poses a pollution problem for Ellis Lake. According to Lamon, one solution might be to relocate them.
“City services knows about all of Ellis Lake’s problems,” says Lamon “and will handle them all, as soon as city budget allows.”
Ellis Lake is a gathering place for many city sponsored events, such as the annual boat races, the children’s fishing derby, and the cardboard boat races. These events are coordinated by the City Services Department.
The gazebo island hosts private events, such as weddings. The rest of the lake can be reserved for special events too, but according to Lamon, it can be “very difficult to reserve it for exclusive use.”
Ellis Lake was originally a slough fed by the Yuba and Feather rivers. It was created into an artificial lake after W.T. Ellis sold the land around the slough for one dollar to the City of Marysville.
In 1924, the Women’s Improvement Club of Marysville commissioned Robbie McLaren to turn the slough into a lake. Many improvements followed, such as cobblestone work by the Works Projects Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression.