While it's hard for me to believe, my wife and her family insist there were swim docks at the city beaches in the early 1980s. They say they grew up swimming out to them and diving off. They even say they had fun. But sometime since, the docks were removed and the antifun rules were imposed.
I know from old photographs I've seen in a Linden Hills restaurant that once the beaches were a lot of fun. They were crowded on hot summer days. One of these photos, circa 1905, shows high divers jumping off a board fashioned on top of the old Classic Pavilion at Lake Harriet. There is another photograph of water baseball, circa 1915, showing players standing on inflatable bases. The Classic Pavilion also hosted other amenities, including dressing-room rentals, a bathing suit, soap and a towel for 25 cents.
During a Park Board meeting in March, I asked the commissioners if they could revisit amenities such as swim docks and remove some of their overzealous beach rules. In response, they asked no questions and made no comments. Thanks for coming; the next item on our agenda is ...
Since I began talking with people about the beaches, I hear funny stories from these grown-ups about how lifeguards blew the whistle at them for some infraction of the beach rules. Some residents who enjoy swimming in the city's lakes know to do so in the morning, before the lifeguards show up. Boaters also know they can jump in to cool off in the middle of the lake without reprimand. Of course, these acts of enjoyment are violation of Rule No. 9, "Swim only within marked areas." The Park Board does offer a legal way to swim outside of designated swim areas. You can fill out a permit and pay an hourly fee of $115 for your very own Park Board lifeguard and rescue boat.
Some cities have figured out that their beaches are still an amenity (and not a liability) for citizens. Minneapolis residents with extra cash and fortitude have figured that you can have still have fun at an area beach by driving to Shady Oak Beach in Hopkins. It boasts two sand play areas, a water play area, a concession stand, shade umbrellas, and restroom/changing areas. Not too far from the shore, but safely in the deep end of the lake, is a swim dock where kids can jump and dive. All you have to do is see the line of kids and adults waiting to use the high diving board to see how much fun that is.
An extra bonus of driving to Shady Oak Beach and paying for swimming there is that the lifeguards don't spend a lot of their time yelling at the beachgoers to stop having fun.
This is because the beach rules there don't include any of the Minneapolis Park Board restrictions mentioned above. The Shady Oak rules address common sense, such as "no diapers allowed," but they do allow swim diapers for children. I didn't see anything banning piggyback rides. Evidently, the city of Hopkins doesn't think that such rides endanger the participants or those around them as much as the Minneapolis Park Board does. I also didn't see anything banning inflatable toys. Has the Minneapolis Park Board had problems with kids getting stuck in their inflatable inner tubes or falling off into waist-deep water, and Hopkins just has not?
I understand that these are fiscally tight times for the Minneapolis Park Board. I am not suggesting that it spend a bunch of money on amenities to make the beaches a family-friendly place to enjoy the summer. At a minimum, I am asking that it review its beach rules. I am asking it to allow parents to bring small, inflatable flotation devices for toddlers and to let kids give each other rides on their backs. I am asking for permission to allow my children to run enthusiastically into the water. After doing that, maybe the Park Board could look into ways to reintroduce the swim docks to the lakes. Maybe it could look into ways to invest in the beaches in a manner that would bring more money to the city lakes and parks. Perhaps it could explore outside funding available from groups such as People for Parks, a nonprofit group that raises money to fund needed repairs to the Minneapolis park system.
However, most importantly, maybe the Park Board could allow the city beach experience to be just a little more fun.
Steve Young, of Minneapolis, is a real-estate developer.