I don’t know how many thousands of children have learned to swim at the Erb Park Pool, but I do know how many will learn to swim on a splash pad.
That’s why Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna’s announcement that the city had decided to replace the pool with a splash pad astounded me.
There are 84,000 miles of river in Wisconsin and 15,000 lakes, two of them great. Our children have to learn to swim. In a culture that celebrates weekends on the water and for whom “Up North” is both a destination and a way of life, the ability to swim is vital. You don’t have to own property or a recreational vehicle; we live in a very gregarious state. If you live in Wisconsin, your child likely will spend time on the water.
For the past 74 years, they’ve been able to prepare for that by learning to swim in our neighborhood pool.
Beyond this very necessary educational resource, the Erb Park Pool has been a social hub, a rite of passage and an athletic facility.
All of my children and their friends learned to swim at the Erb Park Pool. I spent a summer rehabilitating an elbow by swimming laps at the pool. Many of my adult neighbors rely on their daily swim for exercise and socialization.
The swimming pool offers a level playing field, an affordable option to families who have very few resources. It draws families out of the houses, into the sunlight and fresh air, together.
I’ve lived on the southeast corner of Erb Park since 1971 and, while it is still the same come-home-when-the-streetlights-come-on kind of neighborhood we all grew up with, it does face encroachment from real world concerns.
It’s been nice to have a monitored facility to act as a touchstone for the children and a deterrent to their threats.
The facility needs some major repairs, according to an existing conditions report presented last year. The pool spent most of the summer leaking 20 percent of its water.
My 89-year old neighbor Connie, who once worked as a life guard at Erb Park, called me when she caught wind of the mayor’s plans to demolish the pool.
“Well, I leak too,” she said. “So what? You just keep moving!”
I recognize that it will be expensive to keep up a pool at Erb Park. Either the existing one will need a major overhaul, and or we’ll have to completely rebuild.
I maintain that effort is worth it and I plan to join my feisty neighbors to protect a resource I truly love.