BECKLEY, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – Last year, Beckley’s New River Park Pool was forced to close due to COVID-19 concerns. This year, the pool is closing for a different reason: lifeguards, or rather the lack thereof.
Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Beckley, Leslie Baker, confirmed earlier this week that the pool will not be opening this summer due to a lack of lifeguards.
Baker explained that she needs 10 to 12 lifeguards to operate the Olympic-sized swimming pool that is made complete with a water slide, diving board, wading pool and concessions stand.
She currently only has three lifeguards ready for duty.
While three lifeguards are enough to man the swimming pool at Historic Black Knight, which is much smaller in comparison to New River Park, housing 125 where the other can house up to 500, Baker says she is saddened by the New River Park Pool’s closure. While she hates to see the pool keep its gates closed this summer, Baker says she isn’t surprised, explaineing that the pool has gradually seen a decline in youth being interested in lifeguarding since 2013. Due to this, the pool began operating on decreased hours years ago, hoping that would be enough to sustain operation.
“The lack of lifeguards isn’t because we aren’t trying,” Baker said. “Every year, we cross our fingers and hold our breath, but it’s been a problem for several years. Lifeguarding just isn’t a favorite summer job that it used to be with young people.”
And, according to Baker, the program isn’t just in Beckley. Pools across the state and even the country are seeing a decreased interest in lifeguarding and recent months have yielded numerous articles from outlets stating the demand for lifeguards is at an all-time high.
Baker highlighted other pools, including those at Glade Springs, Adventures on the Gorge, Lake Stephens, and various apartment complexes across Beckley that are having trouble hiring lifeguards.
As Baker said, the City of Beckley has actively tried to recruit lifeguards by offering above minimum wage and by offering American Lifeguard Certification courses and Lifeguard Pretest training in partnership with the Beckley YMCA.
Regardless of the city’s efforts, Baker says she believes the pool would have eventually closed due to a lack of lifeguards last year had it not first closed due to the pandemic.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “That is what Parks and Rec are for. That’s why we are here, for the fun parts. We are not an essential service; we are not part of public works; we are for recreation. We are here for people to get out and enjoy the outdoors with their families. It is just very disheartening. If both pools were open, 625 people could be out in the sun exercising and having fun. Now I’m down to 125.”
As of right now, Baker says she is unsure if the New River Park Pool will reopen in 2022.
The Historic Black Knight Pool is scheduled to open this weekend and will operate from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call the country club at 304-253-7321 for more information.