On Sunday evening, August 21 the city-run swimming area at Crystal Lake shut down for the season. It had been open since mid-June and served thousands of residents as a safe, supervised waterfront. In the prior millennium the beach had stayed open until Labor Day Monday. In recent decades, though, it has closed two weeks earlier, in part to allow its lifeguards, mostly college students, some free time before their classes begin.
I first swam in Crystal Lake in 1970. At that time swimmers could check their bags and valuables in lockers behind the long desk near the entrance. The deep water area also had a raft for sunbathing. There was even a diving board off the dock on the right. For safety reasons, no doubt, both the raft and diving board have long since disappeared. The lake, nonetheless, plays a vital role in the summer life of our city. I typically swim there three or four times each week. Thanks to the air pump to the right of the dock, the water is fresh and algae-free most summers. The lake scum also remains in check when the lake has frozen the previous winter for at least several days. That happened this year, praise the Lord.
Grateful as I am for my numerous swims this summer, I still believe that Crystal Lake closed prematurely.* The two weeks since have been mild, sunny, and often humid. Most of those who use the lake are either young children and their parents or retirees like me, and we miss it. Now you might ask, “Why don’t you swim at Levingston Cove or Cronin’s Cove, the lake’s other beaches? Lots of people already do.” True enough, but I have gone on record in opposition to freelance swimming at the lake. First, everyone ought to help sustain the lake by purchasing a season’s pass. Second, the lifeguards provide an element of safety and supervision missing at the other beaches. I expressed this opinion in an op-ed several years ago in support of the stance of the Friends of Crystal Lake.
All of us are sinners, I guess; last week, on a particularly hot afternoon, I violated my own precepts. The official beach had already closed, and I wanted to swim. Locking my bike to a tree on the margins of Levingston Cove, I waded into the shallow waters. The going was tough at first because the bottom was either rocky or murky. Finally, when the water was deep enough, I flopped in and swam towards the distant shore.
I had always wanted to swim across the lake. Though the deep-water area at the city beach is reasonably expansive, many a swimmer wants to reach the far shore as long as it is not too distant. Swimming across and back presented no problem to me. It also left me invigorated and refreshed. Still, as I dried myself on the shore, I suffered pangs of guilt. I vowed that I would never freelance swim in Crystal Lake except out of season.
Blame it on the premature closing of the lake front. Somehow, some way, the city beach at Crystal Lake ought to remain open until August expires.
* Yes, Gath Pool remains open, but the experiences are hardly equivalent.