Summer’s full force arrives in the Twin Cities this weekend, as temperatures soar into the 90s, Minneapolis and St. Paul pools and water parks open for the season and boaters flock to area lakes.
With school out in both cities and a hot weekend forecast, parks and recreation officials are expecting Saturday to be one of the busiest days of the season for area beaches and pools.
“We are fully prepared to be at capacity at all of our city pools within the first hour of opening,” said Mike Hahm, St. Paul’s parks director.
On Minneapolis’ North Side, big crowds are expected at the new Webber Park Natural Swimming Pool. After opening weekends only late last summer, the pool will be open six days a week beginning Saturday.
The North Commons Water Park, closed last year for repairs and updates, will also open Saturday — and this weekend, admission is free. The city has taken over lifeguard duties there from the YMCA.
Two big pools coming online has put a strain on the number of lifeguards available to other Minneapolis swimming areas, said Dawn Sommers, spokeswoman for Minneapolis Parks and Recreation. The city has 83 lifeguards on staff, more than last year but 22 short of its goal.
The shortage has led to cuts in lifeguards at three of the city’s smaller beaches: Cedar Point, Lake Calhoun’s 32nd Street beach and the 50th Street beach at Lake Nokomis.
For now, those beaches will have lifeguards on weekends only.
Sommers said the city will continue to hire lifeguards throughout the summer and will waive the fee for lifeguard certification for new hires.
“The fact that we are low on lifeguards doesn’t mean these areas aren’t safe,” Sommers said. “As always, we ask that everyone prioritize safety.”
For Minneapolis resident Marianne Bull, not having as many lifeguards on duty at the beaches is a concern.
“It’s really a critical safety issue,” she said as she pulled out a picnic lunch Friday on the shore of Lake Nokomis. “The lakes are one of our greatest resources, and I’m happy to pay taxes for guards to keep them safe.”
Megan Hollerman agreed. As her three children played in their “hot tub” made of sand on Friday, she said that the hot days are made for afternoons in the water.
“We survived the cold long winter and days like these are our sweet, sweet reward,” she said Friday. “But they need to be safe.”
Spreading the message to boaters
Law enforcement officials are working to make sure it’s a safe summer for boaters, too.
Last year, 18 boating deaths in Minnesota marked a 10-year high, so the Department of Natural Resources is also encouraging everyone to wear life jackets (it’s required for children under 10).
“Watch where your kids are, wear your life jacket and learn how to swim,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
Only two of last year’s boating victims were wearing life jackets, according to the DNR. From 2010 through 2015, 82 percent of all victims in boating deaths weren’t wearing life jackets.
Earlier this week, Troy Bladholm hoisted his late father’s beige Crestliner boat, the one they fished in for nearly 20 years, into Lake Calhoun.
Stored in compartments are the life jackets that he won’t be wearing (“I can swim,” Bladholm, 28, of St. Francis, said). His fishing companion, Austin Bloom of Eau Claire, Wis., was less confident.
“I don’t know much about boats,” said Bloom, 22, who was planning to wear his life jacket.
Milder, rainier weather might have contributed to last year’s spike in boating deaths.
“Last season was also especially long with excellent boating weather, so boating participation was also up,” said Debbie Munson Badini, a spokeswoman for the state’s DNR.
The victims were also predominantly men, between 20 and 60 years old. The DNR is targeting these groups with ads displaying inflatable life jackets, a style most frequently worn by men, Munson Badini said.
Life jackets for loan
On Lake Minnetonka, life jackets are available for loan at boat access points including the Sheriff’s Water Patrol headquarters, the Maxwell Bay and Grays Bay on Lake Minnetonka.
Hennepin County is also building an additional dock along County Road 15 near the Arcola Bridge across from Big Island, Stanek said, to expedite emergency responses in that area by three to four minutes.
“Timing is of the essence,” Stanek said. “We try to be respectful of private properties, too. In this case, we decided to put another access point for public safety.”
The Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, which was formed in 2011 and has spearheaded free life jacket programs, is hoping to add three more loaner boxes if it secures funding, according to LeeAnn Mortensen, injury prevention coordinator at North Memorial Medical Center.
“We know life jackets save lives, and they’re only saving lives if they’re being worn,” Mortenson said.