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If you still want to cool off in an outdoor public pool or municipal water park over Labor Day weekend, your options are limited.
And if you want to swim in the sunshine after Labor Day? You are pretty much out of luck when it comes to outdoor public pools in the Twin Cities.
Why is that?
“Guess what happens the first two weeks into August?” asks David Albornoz, aquatics facility supervisor for the city of St. Paul. “High school kids get back into sports practice.”
Those high school kids are your lifeguards. Soon after, college students who work as lifeguards return to school. Combine the lifeguard issue with crowds that shift from public pools to the Minnesota State Fair, it all adds up to the draining of our chlorinated water play.
This doesn’t seem to be a problem for many seasonal swimmers.
“We get a few questions that ask why we close before Labor Day, but people generally understand,” says Mark Vaughan, aquatics manager for the city of Eagan, in an email response to the Pioneer Press. “Most people get that summers are short in Minnesota and that the end of August is really a transition week to the school year.”
Outdoor pools: What’s still open?
In South St. Paul, the Splash Pool at Lorraine Park closed for the season on Aug. 13 — but folks in the Dakota County suburb still had another way to cool off.
“We were fortunate enough to keep one of our pools open a week longer than we normally do,” said Mercedes Miklya, South St. Paul’s recreation supervisor for special events, youth programs and aquatic programs, in an email reply to the Pioneer Press’ inquiry. “Northview Pool closed Aug 20th this year.”
Nearby, West St. Paul kept its city pool open a week longer, through Sunday — but with reduced hours (1 to 5 p.m.) during that final week.
Bigger pools in bigger cities aren’t necessarily open longer. The metro’s municipal water parks, including Cascade Bay in Eagan as well as facilities in Edina, Coon Rapids and St. Louis Park, are all now closed for the season. So is Ramsey County’s Battle Creek Waterworks in Maplewood, which ended its season on Aug. 20.
The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have more options to get immersed.
Across the river, both the Jim Lupient Water Park in Northeast Minneapolis and the North Commons Water Park in North Minneapolis are open through the holiday on Monday. So is the city’s Webber Natural Swimming Pool, as well as (now unguarded) beaches, wading pools and splash pads.
“We brag that we have more water sources than any urban center in the U.S.,” says Dawn Sommers, a spokesperson for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Get details at minneapolisparks.org/activities-events/water-activities.
St. Paul’s outdoor pools are also still open this week — with a catch.
Due to decreased demand caused by parking and traffic congestion from the nearby Minnesota State Fair, Como Regional Park Pool has shut down open swim with its zip lines and other water play options.
As of Saturday, with a projected high temperature of between 90 and 95 degrees, Como will be closed for the season.
However, more than five miles away from the Fair traffic, the Highland Park Aquatic Center at 1840 Edgcumbe Road remains open through Labor Day on Monday.
It’s been a popular place this week as the temperatures heat up again.
“We do notice an increase in traffic the last week at Highland,” Albornoz says. “Nothing like the peak of summer, though.”
St. Paul resident Barb Rose noticed there was less elbow room during her water aerobics class at Highland earlier this week.
“It was packed!” Rose says.
The St. Paul swimmer is bummed that her outdoor workout is almost over for another summer.
“I really do wish they would stay open longer,” Rose says. “There are still so many beautiful days in September.”
For details on pool hours as well as info on Phalen Regional Park Beach and splash pads, visit stpaul.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/aquatics.
Beaches: Still open!
Many K-12 students in the Twin Cities return to school on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, but the start of September doesn’t mean Minnesotans will immediately begin wearing sweaters as we drink pumpkin spice lattes and watch the leaves fall: The Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service is predicting hot weather for the Labor Day weekend and beyond, with temperatures possibly climbing to 100.
While pools are closing, Minnesota is still the land of 10,000 lakes.
“In Ramsey County, we do operate a number of public beaches, which are open through Labor Day,” says Mark McCabe, director of Ramsey County Parks & Recreation. “So we still promote that as an opportunity to go swim and recreate and cool off.”
While swimming with a lifeguard on duty is always the safest option, not all designated swimming beaches are guarded even in the summer. Can people still head to the nine swimming beaches of Ramsey County after Labor Day?
“After Labor Day, we typically have taken in the swim lines,” McCabe says. “It’s not illegal to go swimming, but as far as having a roped-off, designated swim area, that’s where we’ve put those facilities to rest after the Labor Day weekend.”
(Public restrooms at swimming beaches throughout the metro could also be affected after Labor Day, depending on the park. In Ramsey County, check at Ramseycounty.us.)
But why is Labor Day the end of the official beach season?
“That’s been traditionally based on attendance and weather and things like that,” McCabe says.
With the recent extreme temps, could that demand change and the beach season be extended?
“Those are things we are evaluating for longer term,” says McCabe.
New York, facing a lifeguard shortage, recently started to recruit older folks as guards, according to a report in the New York Times. Of course, anyone can train and apply to be a lifeguard, but it’s commonly been most popular as a seasonal gig for students in high school and college.
In a recent online search, pay for some lifeguards in the metro starts at $15 an hour and includes training. In St. Paul, the pay starts at $17 an hour. Still …
“Not many people are full-time life guards,” says Albornoz, the St. Paul aquatics facility supervisor, who is 52. “I love my job, but it’s rare to see people my age who are lifeguards.”
Thanks in part to Albornoz and his team, St. Paul doesn’t have a lifeguard shortage like New York or other pools in the Twin Cities: A high school coach at Central High School as well as aquatics supervisor, Albornoz leads an Aquatic Teen Fitness program that has become popular.
Starting Oct. 2 this fall at Great River Water Park, the indoor aquatics facility within the Oxford Community Center in St. Paul, teens ages 14 to 18 can once again increase their physical fitness and learn lifeguarding skills. The drop-in program, offered three days a week, includes swimming (with slides!), a sauna, music, healthy snacks, games, drills, community mentors, guest speakers and service projects.
The teens have fun, too, as they gain skills.
“Tacos on Fridays help,” says Albornoz with a smile.
The unique program has helped recruit and prepare the next generation of the city’s lifeguards — and it’s free, with no pre-registration required.
“That’s been a game changer,” Albornoz says. “We are going against national trends.”
To learn more, go to stpaul.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/aquatics/great-river-water-park and click on “Aquatic Teen Fitness.”
If you really want to swim in an outdoor pool in September, there’s always Swimply — a service that connects swimmers with owners of private pools that can be rented out for prices as low as $25 to $50 per hour. A check of the site turned up several options throughout the Twin Cities, with dates extending into September and amenities including grills, fire pits and pool toys (more info, with photos and reviews of the pools, at Swimply.com).
Juli Manz has her own backyard pool in Edina (not for rent), and she still buys a season pass to the Edina Aquatic Center every summer.
“The people are so friendly and welcoming and the atmosphere is so lively and fun,” Manz says. “I love watching the kids do belly flops — there’s nothing better than watching the flops — and there have been some spectacular divers over the years. It’s just really a fun place to go for a couple of hours and get some exercise in.”
While she understands the seasonal lifeguard issue, she wishes this joyful community didn’t have to end so soon.
“They closed Aug. 20, and it’s summer until the 21st of September,” she says.
She’s already counting the days until the pool opens again.
“I think it’s 266 days,” she said on Wednesday.
For Barb Rose, her pool community is made up of the people in her water aerobics class at Highland. From her instructor, Martha, to her friends in the water, it’s a place that combines friendship with fresh air and exercise.
“I love being outside,” Rose says. “It feels so good to swim when the sun is out and the sky is blue and the trees are all around. Sometimes, I see hawks and deer on property. I guess I understand that they can’t staff it.”
“I’ll probably start up again at Oxford at some point,” she says.
Great River Water Park at the Oxford Community Center in St. Paul opens for the indoor season — Minnesota’s longest season — on Sept. 18.