If you’ve never been to a Killer Whales swim meet at the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp, you’re missing out on a remarkable community event.
The Killer Whales are an institution, and not incidentally have been nearly perennial champions in their summer league competition against teams from other Okanogan County towns.
From tiny kids splashing through 25-yard races to veteran teenagers powering through lap after lap, kick turn after kick turn, the team embraces a spectrum of valley kids like no other sport. Each year 100 or more youngsters turn out. I can’t calculate what that means in terms of per capita participation, but I suspect if Seattle had a similar team with similar involvement it would number in the thousands.
The young competitors are the center of attention, but it pretty much takes a valley to put on a swim meet. Parents line one side of the pool (under cover — it’s summer in the Methow, after all), and volunteers including timers, announcers and scorekeepers make sure the competition goes smoothly. It has to, as there are sometimes upwards of 100 races in a single meet. The meets are unique gatherings in the true sense of the word.
The Whales come from up and down the Methow, and so do their entourages. When the kids aren’t tearing up the pool, swimmers of all ages take advantage of open swim sessions and other programs. Although it is a Twisp facility, the Wagner Pool is a community asset that would be difficult to replicate.
But it turns out that replication will be necessary, if recreational swimming and Killer Whales competition are going to continue being valley traditions.
The Wagner is more than a half-century old and just about worn out. Thanks to the ministrations of the town’s Public Works Department, volunteer help and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations over the years, the pool can be patched together for perhaps another few years of operations (it didn’t open this past summer because of coronavirus restrictions).
Replacing the pool will be a huge challenge — logistically, financially and to a certain extent politically. But try to imagine the valley without it. Friends of the Pool, the determined nonprofit organization that is planning how to replace the pool and finance a new one, would rather you didn’t. They are working diligently, within a multi-year time frame, to come up with a solution that the community can support in every way.
At the heart of the effort, ultimately, will be a fundraising campaign. That may include large and small donations, grants, and tax revenues generated by the formation of a recreation district (there are several forms that can take). Expect a pool replacement project — especially a year-round and possibly multipurpose facility that the community has expressed interest in — to require more than a few million dollars.
Is that out of the community’s reach, even with a combination of funding sources? The Methow has stepped up before to back the Winthrop Rink, the new Winthrop Library and a new day lodge at Loup Loup Ski Bowl. A new pool might be the biggest “ask” we’ve seen for a specific project, perhaps topping even the $5 million cost of the new library. (The Methow Conservancy did raise $20 million in an ambitious fundraising drive quite a few years back, to which I contributed even before I arrived here full-time.)
The Methow’s well of generosity has been deep and reliable, even as frequently as it is drawn on. Friends of the Pool will need that kind of support, which can (and usually must) come in a variety of ways. The Town of Twisp, still hoping to construct a new civic building next year, isn’t in a position to take on such a project but will certainly be involved as the Wagner is a town-owned facility. Site considerations will come into play, and it may not be possible to accommodate a new, likely larger facility at the Wagner’s current location. I think the pool has to remain in Twisp but should be regarded as a valley-wide resource, as the rink now is and the new library will be.
I’ve said before that I think the Methow can handle only one really large fundraising campaign at a time. Friends of the Pool has patiently waited its turn. You can help by getting involved in the public participation aspect of scoping out the project. Involvement now will, we hope, inspire involvement later on, when the really hard work of digging a pretty big hole in the ground begins.