It’s not ‘business as usual’ at The BeachOn Wednesday afternoon, Paris Houle and Madi Jones passed the first-ever swimming test at The Beach. By passing the test, the pair of 11-year-olds can again start spending their days at the Cloquet swimming pond, without being accompanied by a parent or babysitter.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
On Wednesday afternoon, Paris Houle and Madi Jones passed the first-ever swimming test at The Beach. By passing the test, the pair of 11-year-olds can again start spending their days at the Cloquet swimming pond, without being accompanied by a parent or babysitter.
Paris’ mother, Traci, was happy that her daughter passed the test easily.
“We live right up the road, and she hasn’t been able to come swimming since the accident,” said Traci, referring to the drowning at the city-owned pond July 21. “She’s been coming here by herself since she was 9.”
Beach Rule No. 1 – “No children under the age of 12 will be admitted unless accompanied by an adult or responsible individual” – is the rule change that Beach lifeguards and Community Education staff have heard about the most. Officials increased the age for Rule No. 1 from 8 years old to 12 after 6-year-old Wyatt Hanna drowned at The Beach three weeks ago.
In the two weeks since the pond reopened – The Beach was closed for seven days following the drowning – attendance has been dramatically lower at the city swimming facility, even on hot and humid days.
Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said city officials anticipated a drop in attendance following the tragic accident, which occurred in three feet of water on a day that the pond was not particularly crowded. It was the first drowning at the sand-bottomed pond since it opened in 1977.
“I think [the decline in attendance] was to be expected really,” Fritsinger said. “Over time, as people reacquaint themselves and see the steps that we’re taking, I think our numbers will climb again.”
Those changes include the following:
• Children 6 years old and younger need to be supervised by an adult who is in the water with them.
• Children 11 years old and younger need to be accompanied by an adult – or childcare provider who is at least 16 years old – unless they have passed the level 4 swim lessons and can show proof with a card OR they pass a swim test given by lifeguards at The Beach.
• Children 12 years old and older can come alone.
• A babysitter/childcare provider must be at least 16 years old to supervise children under age 12.
Sara Liimatainen, Cloquet Community Education director, said Community Ed (which runs the pond in a partnership with the city) and lifeguards have also been working to develop a group policy.
On Wednesday, the Proctor Community Education childcare brought a group of 30 children to The Beach.
“There are no state childcare guidelines for swimming,” Liimatainen said. “Proctor is helping us set this up; it’s like a practice run. They’ll be asking us about any procedures that may not be clear, and we’ll be getting active feedback from them.”
Other changes at the pool include five-minute breaks on the hour, in addition to the already existing 15-minute safety breaks at 2 and 5 p.m. During the five-minute breaks, staff will review the safety rules over the loud speaker. An extra lifeguard is also on-call each day, which would mean five guards watching the pond and another two guards inside the pool house when attendance warrants it.
Of course, lately they haven’t needed that extra guard because most days the numbers have been well below 100 from a peak of more than 600 on July 1.
Liimatainen said the swimming tests are one way for families to get around the age restriction for unsupervised swimmers. Another way kids younger than 12 can go to The Beach without an adult is to pass the Red Cross Level 4 swimming class.
“We’re doing this for safety,” Liimatainen said. “We’re also doing this because it will give us an assessment of what that age should really be. Should it be 8, or 9, or 10 years old or older? If we’re testing and all the 11-year-olds are passing, then maybe the age should be 11 instead of 12.”
The most difficult part of the test Wednesday was the requirement that children do the crawl stroke for one length of the swimming lanes and some kind of backstroke for a second length. Other parts of the test included treading water for 30 seconds and floating both on their backs and faces down in the water.
“I think they’re a great thing to implement,” said Adam Isakson, a supervisor who’s worked the past three summers at The Beach and recently graduated from the University of St. Thomas. “It gives confidence not only to the parents, but to the lifeguards and the kids themselves. I remember when I was a camper and we had to take swim tests. It gives swimmers more confidence in their abilities.”
Putting a higher age restriction on Rule No. 1 has undoubtedly contributed to the decline in numbers at the swimming pond.
“Really, your whole clientele here is 8 to 12 years old, because the big kids go to the lakes to swim,” said Traci Houle, gesturing at the almost empty pool Wednesday afternoon.
Anyone who would like their child to take a swimming test can bring them to the pool for testing at 10:45 a.m. or 5 p.m. each day. Parents must fill out a permission slip stating they would like their child to be tested and, if the child passes, he or she has permission to come to the pool without a supervising adult.
“I think it’s a good test,” Traci added.
Hours at The Beach change to 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 16. The last day for the swimming pond this season will be Friday, Sept. 2.