Nothing lazy about old swimming pools

As a nostalgia trigger, it was right up there with catching a whiff of swimming-pool chlorine. That faint scent takes me back to childhood quicker than the aroma of Crayola crayons.

When I read Herald writer Noah Haglund’s front-page story Sunday — “Are aging pools losing their allure?” — I could almost detect that distinctive pool smell, and hear the splashes of long-ago summers.

The swimmers I related to best in the article weren’t lined up at the Lynnwood Recreation Center, where an indoor pool is tricked out with water slides and a lazy river.

I have more in common with the hardy swimmers in Sarah Weiser’s A1 photo of the outdoor McCollum Park pool in Sunday’s Herald. Those few showed up for a dip on a chilly June day.

It reminded me that when I was a kid, unless we were out of town, I showed up every day at Spokane’s Comstock Park pool. In the mornings I took swim lessons at the outdoor pool, and was later on a swim team. Afternoons, I’d come back to swim after riding my bike home for lunch.

Spokane swimmers enjoy hot Eastern Washington temperatures, but I remember some cold days. It didn’t matter. I’d go swimming.

Reading about the descriptively named “lazy river” in Sunday’s article, I compared not only old-school pools with the fancy new ones, but by extension the children who did and do use them.

Lazy rivers — channels of current where swimmers can ride flotation devices — are features at the new Lynnwood pool and the indoor Mountlake Terrace pool.

During my childhood in the 1960s, Comstock pool had two diving boards. Except for ladders, that was it. Sitting in the sun on the concrete pool deck was the only lazy thing to do.

I first saw a lazy river at the Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion, a fabulous facility with pools, spa and sauna, sports courts, a gym and more. My boy went to a birthday party there, and had a great time floating the lazy river on an inner tube.

I would never try drawing a direct line from lazy-river pools to today’s dire problem of childhood obesity. Still, I can’t help but think back about 50 years. I rode my bike or swam all day. I wish America’s kids were as fit now as we were then.

In a 2009 policy brief, “Obesity in Our Community,” the Snohomish Health District reported that between 1994 and 2007, the statistic for adults considered obese increased from 13 percent to 27 percent.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children in the United States ages 6 to 11 considered obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008.

Taking a stand against lazy rivers or water slides would be as mean-spirited as pooh-poohing birthday cake. Are kids who ride lazy rivers instead of swimming lap lanes just lazy? Nope, they’re kids. For my boy’s 12th birthday, I took him to Great Wolf Lodge near Olympia, which is nothing but water fun.

Last summer, while in Spokane to see my parents, I took a sentimental journey to Comstock Park. The classic old pool where I swam has had a snazzy makeover. It has zero-depth entry like a beach, a water dome with bubbling streams flowing down, and a 100-foot water slide.

Part of the pool — the part for serious swimmers — is in the footprint of the rectangular tank where I swam. But a good portion is now devoted to water play.

My mom, who at 89 takes a no-nonsense view of things, doesn’t like the changes. When I told her I stopped by Comstock pool, she said “they’ve ruined it.”

I see what she means. What were once utilitarian public places now look like commercial amusement parks. The city of Mountlake Terrace’s website boasts “Our warm, modern indoor pool is fun for everyone!”

With all those colorful slides and sprays, how much exercise do pool users get? Those fun features also say something about children’s apparent need to be constantly entertained.

Gee, I sound like a grumpy old person — but gosh, if I were 10 I’d love a lazy river.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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