After remaining closed for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pinehurst Park beach reopened to the public June 14.
And families have returned to the public swimming facility to cool off and have some fun in the water.
Cloquet Public Schools Community Education Director Erin Bates estimated the most people visiting the beach so far is about 150. During the hottest parts of the summer, Bates said they’ve seen as many as 600 patrons on a busy day, but the weather is likely a factor in the lower than normal numbers.
“When it’s 70 and cloudy out, you are almost getting hypothermia out there,” she said. “I think that’s part of it — it hasn’t really been hot, hot yet since we opened. I think that’s probably keeping the numbers down.”
The Community Education Department contracts with the city of Cloquet to run the beach each summer.
Bates said the biggest challenge for reopening was simply being closed for a full year.
“After taking a year off, trying to remember how we did things two years ago was a little bit hard,” Bates said. “You have to go back in your memory bank to make sure everything gets taken care of before we open, that everything’s set in place and that we’re not forgetting anything.”
Another challenge facing the beach is a shortage of lifeguards. The beach typically has a staff of 25 guards for the summer, but this season they have just 10, according to Kimm Miens, the Community Education Department’s aquatics manager. Five of those 10, Miens said, just finished their certification course in May.
To help ensure that everyone remains safe this summer, officials are requiring anyone 12 and under to wear a life jacket while at the beach.
“The only way we felt confident enough to be able to open up the beach was to have the life jacket rule,” Bates said. “Without that we would not have felt comfortable opening up the beach safely.”
Miens said many guards let their certification slip with no classes over the past year to recertify.
“Keeping up has been hard with COVID, because nobody could get in to do those recertifications,” Miens said.
In addition, some have found work elsewhere since the beginning of the pandemic.
“If they had to go get a different job last summer because we weren’t open, it’s like, ‘Why pay a few hundred bucks to keep up my certification if I can just go work at Kwik Trip and make more money?’” Bates said. “Why should they pay to keep up the certification and then have a job that’s very weather dependent and without guaranteed hours?”
The shortage isn’t specific to Cloquet or northern Minnesota. There are shortages in many places including Texas and even the waterparks in Wisconsin Dells.
Miens recently took over the aquatics department and has been unable to take the certification class she needs to teach a lifeguard course. She is planning to take the next available class, but it doesn’t start until September.