Tears join pleas to preserve swimming at lake
Christina Killion Valdez
Two strikingly different views of Foster-Arend Lake were presented to Rochester’s board of park commissioners Tuesday.
One spelled out the lake’s dangers, noting that Foster-Arend is the state’s third-deadliest swimming hole. The other showed the public good of having a place where families can build sandcastles and cool off in the water and triathletes can practice in open water.
Yet the question remained: How should the Rochester Parks and Recreation Department, which manages the park, keep its visitors safe?
Eight people have drowned in the lake since the swimming beach opened 23 years ago. Through the years, changes have tried to address the problem, including creating a designated swimming area; posting warning signs; and using lifeguards, which was discontinued.
"The only thing not tried as a way to reduce the mortality rate is to eliminate swimming," said Jay Hoecker, the doctor leading the charge to discontinue public swimming at Foster-Arend. He was one of 17 community members to speak.
Echoing his views was Dianna Friemann, who said that in addition to the eight deaths, swimmers have needed to be rescued and resuscitated at Foster-Arend. She noted that even good swimmers can drown, including her niece’s father, who recently drowned in Costa Rica.
"Please don’t make our community look like we don’t care," Friemann said.
Yet, overwhelmingly, community members stressed the tragedy that would come from closing the lake.
Bob Norenberg gave a tearful plea to keep the swimming beach open. While he sympathizes with the families whose loved ones drowned, he didn’t want to see Rochester’s only swimming beach closed.
"Swimming at a lake is a different experience than swimming at a pool," he said. "You see fish and can build sandcastles."
Others spoke of personal responsibility and the difficulty of enforcing a swimming ban.
Swimming would need to be defined, noted John Shaffer, "Can I wade into the water? If I am floating in a foot of water, is it not OK, but if I’m standing in 3 feet of water is it OK?"
He believes a swimming ban wouldn’t address the issue. "People will still swim there. It will just be illegal. That will probably make it more tantalizing to some."
Commissioners will decide if swimming will be allowed, but until the park board decides, possibly at its May meeting, park board President Rod Toomey said Foster-Arend will remain open as usual.