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Harry's Gang: I get it: Pandemic poses problem on pool prospects

It’s probably too late now, but I wish the City of Cloquet had decided to open “The Beach” at Pinehurst Park this summer. The city council agreed with the leanings of the parks commission and city staff that opening the pool this year just wasn’t feasible due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the late start date, and the concern that the pool may be overrun by swimmers who couldn’t get into other beaches.

I can appreciate those concerns, and it’s always easy to criticize a decision after it’s been made rather than work with people on making the original decision. But that’s what armchair columnists do, I suppose, so here it goes:

We know that the coronavirus is a serious, unknown danger that simply hasn’t been completely understood. So, the social distancing and the limits on public gatherings ordered by state officials makes sense. We are not seeing widespread health disasters, and it’s logical to assume that holing up for the past few months had something to do with that.

But we have adapted to this new normal. It’s not bizarre to see people out in public wearing masks. Hand sanitizer is available everywhere. Most of us have learned to exercise care when going out in public, and, as a result, we are now accustomed to staying on constant alert to prevent us from catching COVID-19.

With this new training, I had hoped the pool could have been opened safely. Add in the chlorinated water, which is helpful in preventing the spread of the virus; the sunshine, which also slows the spread of the virus (the pool is rarely open when the sun isn’t shining); and our now-normal social distancing, I think we would have used the pool safely.

Since we know so little about how the virus spreads, we could have required facemasks when people are checking in or using the concession stand. It’s possible the check-in counter could have been moved outside. The concession stand is already set up this way. There is plenty of room, and the fences surrounding the pool already have several gates that could be converted to check-in spaces.

The pool is usually well-staffed with smart, dedicated lifeguards. It should not have been too much of an additional burden to ask the lifeguards to enforce social distancing rules as well as guard the pool itself. Sure, it would have been an additional responsibility that might take away their attention from the swimmers, but perhaps shuffling the staff assignments would have helped. Such restrictions and burdens are better than keeping the pool closed. It’s a small price to pay to keep the pool open safely.

And perhaps the concession lines could be spaced out with patrons staying 6 feet apart, much like the lines at the gas station and grocery stores.

I can understand the park commission’s reluctance to risk such a large amount of the pool’s budget on opening so late in the season. The pool doesn’t even come close to being profitable, as the fees it takes in annually just covers the cost of hiring Community Ed to run the pool’s daily operations. It would have taken two weeks to fill the pool and balance the chemicals, according to city staff. That puts opening day at about the Fourth of July, leaving just two months to collect swimmer fees. That would have been one expensive swimming season.

But parks aren’t supposed to be profitable. Parks are a community amenity, paid for by taxes and the local sales tax. That’s what the money is for.

Public works director Caleb Peterson is probably right when he said that the pool could be overrun by people from other communities that have limited their own summer recreation opportunities. I hadn’t thought of that, until he mentioned it at the past park commission meeting. Chaos at the pool wouldn’t be helpful or healthy for anyone. Caleb’s other concern was that the opposite might also happen, that no one would come out of concern for safety. Then it really could have been a financial disaster.

So, the city probably made the right decision in deciding to not open The Beach at Pinehurst Park. After all, they’ve been running the pool for years and know a lot more about it than I do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still wish they had decided to open it this summer.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News and an attorney in Esko who hosts the talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. He can be reached at [email protected].