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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 27, 2007

We'll sink or swim together

Illustration by Forest Byrd

The autumnal equinox has come and gone. Fall is here. The days grow shorter, the temperatures cool. Swimming outdoors is, for most of us, just a memory now, or a vision for the future.

But for those who used to swim at John Boyd Thacher State Park, it is neither. The grand Olympic-size pool sits empty. The half-century-old bathhouse was demolished in August. The pool has been closed for two seasons and there are no plans for replacement.

This is a shame.

A year-and-a-half ago, with much fanfare, the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation announced that Thacher would be the first state park in New York to get a waterslide.

In March of 2006, the state announced a $3 million project to completely renovate the pool complex, replacing the old pool with a smaller leisure pool, featuring an "interactive water play structure," a free swim area, and a large looping waterslide. The shell of the old pool was to hold a spray pad with shallow water and fountains for children to play in. The project was also to include a new bathhouse and landscaping.

A state parks spokeswoman at the time said the renovations were "to compete with some of the newer facilities in this area."

We'd rather have the old pool than nothing at all. Michael Vincent, who lives just six miles down Route 443 from the pool said he learned to swim there as a kid. He has spent a good part of his adult life as a maintenance supervisor at the park, retiring four years ago; he now works at Thacher part-time.

The pool held 675,000 gallons of water, he said, which came from nearby Thompson's Lake. The biggest problem with the concrete pool in its later years, Vincent said, was, because of the concrete rotting, the pool lost several thousand gallons of water a day.

Chris Fallon, who has been the manager at Thacher Park for eight years, told us, "It was the general consensus of the engineers"that it could not be repaired and was not safe to operate."

A current spokeswoman for the state parks office blamed the previous administration for making an announcement it didn't follow through on. Alluding to the exit of Governor George Pataki and the election of Eliot Spitzer, she said, "Once the previous administration made its announcement"not much else happened. When the new administration took over and looked at the needs of various parks," she said, the initial plan didn't look feasible.

It may seem foolish to look at parks in terms of "needs" when there are such pressing needs the state must answer — needs like providing heath-care coverage for children or fixing bridges so they don't collapse — but the pool in the Helderbergs fulfilled a real need.

It was the only place many Hilltown children could go to learn how to swim. Every time we write a story about a child drowning we are struck with the need to teach kids how to swim.

Generations of Hilltown residents worked at the Thacher pool — as ticket-takers, in the concession stand, in the locker rooms, or as lifeguards. The attraction drew thousands to the park, spilling over to help fuel the local economy.

The old pool also fulfilled a, perhaps unintentional, social function. It was one of the few places in the rural Hilltowns where children of different backgrounds — rich and poor; black and white; bussed in from the city, driven in from the country — swam and played together.

"It's not going to stay demolished and a hole in the ground," the park manager told us. "The park needs an attraction of some sort. I'm just not sure what it will be."

We believe Thacher Park needs a pool. It doesn't have to be a $3 million waterslide play land to compete with amusement park attractions. It needs to be a safe and available place for children and grownups to gather, to learn how to swim and to enjoy each others' company in the beauty of the Helderbergs.

"It's discouraging," the state parks spokeswoman said of the failed plans for rebuilding. "I know people must be disappointed."

We are. But we must not be passive in our disappointment. We must not accept the loss of the pool as inevitable.

We urge our readers to make their needs known, to make a case for rebuilding the pool at Thacher Park so plans will be laid and funds allocated for this worthy cause.

Before the vernal equinox, before the days grow long and hot, we hope to see a plan in place to rebuild. We'll sink or swim together.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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