The successful summer at the Wagner Memorial Pool warms my heart. From crowded lap lanes, playful kids, to a winning swim team, it’s a testament to how important this pool is to our community. Summer simply would not be the same without this pool in our valley. The pool builds community across faiths, ages, and class. I will miss these social interactions dearly as the doors close.
This summer, major news outlets like the New York Times and CNN have featured some troubling news about the decline of public swimming pools around the United States, along with an increase in drownings. These statistics are trending with a changing climate, calling for more public pools to cool the masses, not fewer. The situation is discouraging.
It’s actually quite simple to see why this is happening. Those with access to private swimming have the power to divest in the public sector. Across the nation, there has been a steady decline in public investment in municipal swimming pools since the 1970s and swim safety education has taken a back seat. Meanwhile, there’s been an increase in private pool building, profit-driven water park developments, and exclusive community swim clubs that serve the haves, not the have nots. Further, the U.S. has no federal program to address drownings or bolster swim education in a meaningful way –—like with money.
The culmination of these factors places underprivileged communities at risk for fatal drowning accidents, leaving generations with marginal swim skills. Rural areas like ours are especially at risk because we are surrounded by natural open waters. Public investment, and more important, leadership is needed to offer this public service.
For the past 12 years I’ve been an active member of Friends of the Pool and as this season at the pool comes to a close, it marks a transition for me away from active board participation to a new career. In these past 12 years, I have become a citizen expert on things pool related. I’ve learned and heard a lot. People call me, email, text and stop me on the street to tell me what we should or shouldn’t do with or at the pool.
I have heard a lot of things. A few things I know for sure — we need to reach our Spanish-speaking families more effectively to teach swim lessons — we need a long-term funding stream to operate a pool — and we need to replace the Wagner Pool as soon as feasible. I believe Proposition 1 will provide a mechanism to enable all these things to happen.
Few doubt the importance or need for a community pool. Many have reservations or objections about the Methow Aquatics District, the levy, and the governance structure chosen to lead this effort. Many question the need for a year-round facility with two bodies of water. Friends of the Pool members and volunteers have answers to these concerns, and we are happy to talk. In coming weeks, we will be posted at farmers markets, info tables and begin canvassing. Look for us and let’s talk.
I believe we need to form this district to move the ball down the court. I am stepping away from the court, not because I want to, but because there are new players who have skills and experience, they can bring to the game. I’ll be watching in the sidelines, still cheering for Proposition 1, still answering questions and sharing what I’ve learned over the past 12 years with anyone who calls or texts me.