Water, water everywhere (even here)

Back in the day, when the Northwest summer finally settled over Bainbridge like a warm, fuzzy blanket, there was no question where island kids would go for a cool dip. They’d hike down to Mac’s Dam on the old Port Blakely land, or just splash around in the surf on the nearest sandy beach.

Things are a little more complicated these days, what with most of island’s 40-odd miles of shoreline sprouting implicit “No Trespassing” signs in the shadow of waterfront castles, and Mac’s humble swimmin’ hole now elevated to the status of “aquatic field laboratory” or some such thing in the middle of a multimillion-dollar environmental center.

So when the sun blazes down like it did this week, where’s a blister-hot kid to go? As reported elsewhere in this issue, a group of island moms believe the answer lies in a new outdoor water feature at one of our local parks.

Their proposal is still a hazy shimmer on a thermidorian horizon, but would be something bigger than an open fire hydrant and smaller than a full-on outdoor pool. An online petition has been set up, and the group is talking with park officials.

While it’s tempting to dismiss such a notion as superfluous, another micro-amenity for a micro-constituency on an island already full of them, a new water play area is reasonable – to a point. Private funding would have to be key, as island taxpayers have already committed significant funds to aquatic activities of late. We still owe about $3 million on the Don Nakata Memorial Pool (opened: 2001), for which outstanding bonds and loans won’t be paid off for another 10 years. Bundling the feature with the current aquatic center would address issues of management and water treatment, so that site should be considered before any of the outlying parks.

And lest anyone get too ambitious, we should remember that Bainbridge did once have a public outdoor swimming pool: Ray Williamson. Built in 1971, the island’s first public tank was a hit with all ages; only problem was, it was basically useless nine months of the year. So five years after spending $250,000 to build an outdoor pool, island taxpayers spent another $355,000 to cover it. Therein lies the unfortunate truth of a Northwest summer: it’s a Northwest summer. Even this week, two days after we sought relief from a 95-degree scorcher, in rolled the clouds. Sigh.

Of course, this is not the Bainbridge Island of 1976, and expectations grow with our collective wealth. One can easily imagine that having once raised money to put a roof over Ray Williamson Pool, islanders might now raise money to have it taken off. Or to replace it with retractable roof, a la the Mariners ballpark.

Or perhaps we might just lower our standards a bit. In fact, at the risk of betraying creeping age-ism, we’ll venture to say that perspectives on the need for a new outdoor water feature – whatever that might turn out to be – will vary not just by one’s years on the island, but on the planet. Young moms (who by definition weren’t here in the good old days) may well see the desirability of a spray feature for their kids, and more power to them. Meanwhile, early middle-agers and folks who grew up on the mainland will think back to the days of do-it-yourself summer frolics in neighborhood lawn sprinklers on homemade slip-n-slides. Island long-timers may in turn shake their heads at the fact that Bainbridge once built a perfectly good outdoor swimming pool only to put a roof on it, yet the community finds itself still unfulfilled.

And the real long-timers will probably just smile, reminding us that as long as we still have a few public beaches, we’re surrounded by the biggest swimmin’ hole of all.