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Where can we go swimming? Upper Valley towns deciding if and how to open pools and beaches

  • Maeve Tufankjian, 6, of Norwich, Vt., and her mother Megan Bogonovich try out the cool water of Lake Morey before friends arrive for a playdate at the Fairlee Town Beach in Fairlee, Vt., on May 15, 2020. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Fairlee Selectboard will be deciding on Monday whether or not to reopen the beach this summer. "This is our place," Bogonovich said of spending time at the park. "I think we would come anyway." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Fairlee Town Beach, its basketball court and playground equipment is idle in Fairlee, Vt., on May 15, 2020. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Fairlee Selectboard will be deciding on Monday whether or not to reopen the beach this summer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2020 9:48:41 PM
Modified: 5/15/2020 9:48:28 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Scott Hausler got a head start on sending folks to alternative hot-weather water experiences long before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The director of Hartford’s Parks and Recreation Department, Hausler hasn’t had access to the Sherman Manning Pools behind Hartford High School for two years because of their need for repair. The town is planning for a new facility, but that will open no sooner than 2022.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Hausler pointed toward other pools and beaches — Hanover’s Storrs Pond, Woodstock, Lebanon, the nearby Upper Valley Aquatic Center — as heat-beating options. With the pandemic far from over, he’s redirecting folks again, as some other options won’t open and others are assessing the latest from state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s going to be a tough summer,” Hausler said in a phone interview on Thursday. “It’s been tough for us because we didn’t have the municipal pool. Folks can utilize UVAC; that will be the big thing depending on what they can do.

“I do know that the CDC, from what I heard this morning, said there is no evidence right now that indicates COVID-19 can be transmitted in pool water. I would assume some pools might open if they feel like it’s prudent to do so.”

Upper Valley recreation departments and facilities remain on hold during the pandemic, awaiting word from Vermont and New Hampshire authorities about when they can move forward and how. Some have already thrown in the beach towel.

The Woodstock Recreation Department announced earlier this month that its outdoor pool would not open this summer. Thetford’s Treasure Island won’t open to the general public, but authorities may consider small-group use later in the season, pending guidance.

Lebanon Parks and Recreation Department coordinator Krissy Flythe said towns and cities are being left to decide about opening their pools. The Veterans Memorial Pool in Lebanon was scheduled to open on June 15, but City Manager Shaun Mulholland said Lebanon hasn’t been rehiring part-time seasonal staff that the city traditionally relies on. Flythe expects the city to make a decision on the season by the end of next week.

“Right now, we’re making sure things are working,” Flythe said on Friday. “We had to refill it anyway; we had a plastering project in the fall. There’s water in it and we’re maintaining it to get it ready.”

Storrs Pond, which has both a pondside beach and outdoor pool, is also in a wait-and-see posture.

“We are anxiously awaiting guidance from the state of New Hampshire and the governor’s office,” Jeff Graham, general manager of the Hanover Improvement Society, which oversees Storrs Pond, said via email. “We do know it will not be business as usual and that many new strict guidelines will be in-place that we would adhere to.”

In Fairlee, plans to offer swimming lessons through the town’s Recreation Council have been scrapped, and the Selectboard on Monday night will discuss whether the town beach on the south end of Lake Morey can even open this summer, according to Selectboard member Cathy McGrath.

McGrath said she is fortunate to live on Lake Morey but noted it has limited public access, so residents who live elsewhere in town might have no place to swim in the lake.

“COVID-19 hurts different segments of the community in inequitable ways,” McGrath said.

If Fairlee decides not to open the beach, McGrath said lifeguards would not be present and there would be no practical way to enforce various safety measures, including social distancing.

“We can’t stop people from swimming,” she said. “They just have to understand that it is at their own risk.”

That’s something that worries Hausler as well. It’s not an uncommon sight to see unsupervised swimmers cooling off in the White River in West Hartford.

“It’s tough; the interesting thing is the questions everyone is asking across the country,” Hausler said. “We’re tied into the network of the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association; our directors meet every Tuesday on a Zoom call and discuss the situations we’re all in. ... We’re all tied into the discussion with what’s happening in other communities in the country. Some are gearing up to open with restrictions.”

Claremont recreation director Mark Brislin is anticipating that future.

Brislin has seen a draft of Granite State recommendations for reopening pools such as the indoor one at the Claremont Community Center, but they’ve yet to be finalized, he said on Thursday. With his lifeguards and other staffers on furlough, Brislin estimated it would take two weeks to get all of them trained on cleaning and social distancing procedures once he gets the OK to reopen. Even then, Brislin said his pool would likely support lap swimming only at the outset.

“We’re not training anybody right now,” he said. “Once we get our opening date, we’ll get everybody back, get us all on the same page, go over the new guidelines, go over cleaning procedures. It will take time.”

Public beaches offer a heat-busting alternative, assuming they’re made available. In its “Stay at Home 2.0” guidelines of May 1, New Hampshire authorities said inland state parks can open beaches if they follow strict social distancing and cleaning guidelines; ocean beaches must remain closed. Vermont beaches were told to remain closed as part of the state’s “Play Smart, Play Safe” guidelines updated on May 7.

Ultimately, it all may also come down to balancing priorities.

The CDC offers the following on its “healthy swimming” web page: “There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds. Proper operation and disinfection of pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds should kill the virus that causes COVID-19.” It also reminds swimmers to “limit close contact with people outside your home in public spaces, both in and out of the water.”

Hausler sees a different type of heat relief occurring instead.

“Water experiences in backyards,” he predicted, “will become very popular.”

Staff writer John Gregg contributed to this report. Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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