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Most Kandiyohi County parks will not have lifeguards this summer

There will not be a lifeguard on duty this summer at Mill Pond in New London. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

The new motto for swimming beaches at most of Kandiyohi

County's parks this summer will be "swim at your own risk."

In a cost-cutting move that will save $12,000 to $15,000 a year, lifeguards have been eliminated at four county park beaches.

Lifeguards on the Mill Pond at the New London city park, which are paid for with county and city funds, have also been cut.

"I'm just hoping we don't have a tragedy. That's my hope," said Lisa Bailey, who manages Park 2 on the north side of Big Kandiyohi Lake along with her husband, Tim.

The Baileys have been informing their long-time campers about the recent change in park services.

"The campers weren't happy about it, I'll tell you that," said Bailey.

She doesn't believe it'll stop families from camping at the park, but it may affect people who come to the beach just for the day to swim.

Parents will now have to "take on that added responsibility," said Bailey, adding that most of their campers usually do go to the beach with their children.

"I definitely have concerns," said Laura Clark, who manages Park 5 on the north side of Green Lake with her husband, Terry.

Their regular campers, who began making summer reservations in January, understand economic constraints local governments are experiencing and the need to reduce costs.

"Most said they weren't surprised things were being cut," said Clark. "They were just sad it was something that could save a life."

With a tight economy and shrinking local government funds, the county made the tough call in February to cut park expenses by reducing lifeguards, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

"You never want to reduce services that effect people, but everyone understands what boat we're in," he said. "Those decisions aren't made easily."

People demand that government cut its spending and when it does, he said, "People have to pick up their own responsibility, and that includes swimming."

The county commissioners were also told that 10 of the county's past 28 lifeguards would not be returning this year.

"The timing was right because we had a lot of people that weren't coming back," said Kleindl.

If money wasn't an issue new lifeguards would've been recruited and hired. But Kleindl said there was no use to train new lifeguards "if you believed you couldn't support the service."

Clark wonders if some other expenses at the parks, like improvements to facilities, could've been cut instead of eliminating the lifeguards at five public beaches.

Many of the parks only had lifeguards on the weekends anyway, said Clark.

"We're sure going to miss the lifeguards," said Bud Groen, who manages Park 1 with his wife, Joan. "People depend on the lifeguard when they want to let their kids swim."

Park managers are too busy working in the store and campgrounds to keep an eye on the swimming beach, said Groen. "I don't know how it's going to work out," he said. "It's going to be a problem."

He'd at least like to have lifeguards at the beach during the Fourth of July but understands the financial troubles the county is experiencing. "We'll survive, I guess."

New London City Clerk Trudie Guptill said the city was informed this winter that the county wouldn't be funding a lifeguard at the Mill Pond. The city can't afford to pay for one on its own, she said.

New London had been paying $3,500 toward the cost of having lifeguards there on the weekends. If the county hadn't cut the lifeguards this year, Guptill said the city would've likely eliminated it from their budget next year.

County Park 4 at Saulsbury Beach in Spicer, and County Park 7 on Games Lake, will continue to have lifeguards on duty seven days a week.

Rita Olson, from Park 7, said even if lifeguards are on duty at a public beach parents should also be there.

Lifeguards "have a lot of heads to watch" and are not "babysitters," said Olson, who manages the park with her husband, Gary.

"Monitoring by parents is key. I worry for each one of those children," she said. "Parents would help us out by being at the beach when your kids are at the beach."

Because of safety concerns expressed by law enforcement, Kleindl said the popular diving tower will not be installed at Saulsbury Beach on Green Lake this year.

"There have been so many issues with the dive tower," he said, citing problems with over-crowding and fighting. "There's a real safety concern going on with it."

Based on law enforcement's recommendation, Kleindl said they decided to try this year without it. "It doesn't mean we'll never bring it back," he said.

No lifeguards

* Kandiyohi County parks that will not have lifeguards on duty this summer include Parks 1 and 2 on Big Kandiyohi Lake, Park 3 on Diamond Lake and Park 5 on the north side of Green Lake.

* The New London city park on the Mill Pond, which is funded by the county and city, will not have lifeguards this summer.

* Most of those parks will not have swimming rafts or water slides installed at the beaches this year.

* The county's two busiest parks, Park 7 on Games Lake and Park 4 at Saulsbury Beach in Spicer, will continue to have lifeguards seven days a week.

* The diving tower at Saulsbury Beach, however, will not be installed this year because of safety concerns.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750