The Story Behind the Name: Coot Lake
May 18, 2022
We know Coot Lake as a mecca for nature lovers, fisherman, and some of the happiest dogs on the planet, but have you ever wondered how Coot Lake got its name? Is the moniker, by chance, related to the lake's saucy history?
That saucy history happens to be surprisingly short, given that the lake didn't exist until the late 1960's. Boulder's Rick Marlowe was a lifeguard at Boulder reservoir and remembers contractors moving dirt in 1968. He says the construction must have blocked a drainage because, "Boom! There's this lake there!"
Marlowe later became Beach Manager for the reservoir area, including the newborn lake. He said at first the scenic area was a peaceful place, where locals walked their dogs and enjoyed the view of the mountains, the wetlands... and other things.
"We allowed people to go naked, because nobody complained," he said.
According to Marlowe, Coot Lake became one of just two city-designated nude beaches in the United States. (The other was in San Diego.) "We just had to look at it and keep it in perspective, because nobody was being hurt."
Niwot Compass realtor Todd Goad was a kid during the lake's nude beach days. He says his school bus used to turn around in the parking lot across 63rd Street. "The bus would lean to one side," Goad says, "because we all wanted to see who was nude."
As Beach Manager, Marlowe assigned lifeguards to positions around the Boulder Reservoir. At first, he resisted offering Coot Lake postings to the women on his staff, but that didn't last.
"Hey, you can send us over there too! We're big girls!" Marlowe laughs as he remembers being lobbied for the coveted Coot Lake posting. "Hell yes! Oh yeah! Put us over there, Rick!"
The beach became so popular that the City of Boulder installed a parking lot and began charging an entry fee. Eventually, the peaceful character of Coot Lake changed.
"I saw some things that I never seen before," says Marlowe, describing the rise in public promiscuity and drug use at Coot Lake.
According to "New Rules to Control Coot Lake," a 1980 Daily Camera article by Rick Reilly, local residents were up in arms. At one point, Reilly wrote, "motorcycle 'gangs' actually fired shots at each other."
Not long after, the City of Boulder required Coot Lake visitors to put their pants on.
Fast forward 40 years. Coot Lake is a haven for lovers of the outdoors. Families fish while dogs revel in their off-leash freedom. Runners and walkers rim the lake, enjoying the view with no naked sunbathers in sight. Along with the Boulder Reservoir, the lake forms a haven for wildlife, too--one that's unique in Boulder County. Bass, catfish and walleye live in the water; rabbits, snakes and prairie dogs populate the land. Osprey, northern harriers, burrowing owl nests and American Bittern, all "species of concern," are spotted here.
One recent survey cited by the City of Boulder recorded 81 species of birds in the area. One of those may well have been a type of duck called the American Coot. When the lake came into existence, some of its first visitors were the dark-bodied, white-faced coots. Yep, that's how Coot Lake got its name.
So there you have it: after more than 50 years of vivid history, turns out Coot Lake is for the birds, not for the nudists.