GLYNDON, Minn. — For the first time ever, a popular state park swimming hole near here will not be open at all for the summer.
Buffalo River State Park announced on its website that the pond will not be filled this season due to an inability to hire enough lifeguards, despite “intensive efforts” to recruit them.
Chuck Carpenter, District 1 supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Trails, said the DNR is preparing to issue a news release about the decision, but the park decided to update the website before then, out of courtesy to campers who are already registered to visit.
A minimum of six lifeguards are needed to operate the pond, but the DNR was only able to hire two. “We thought it was going to come together, but it didn’t because of a number of circumstances,” Carpenter said.
The pond is coming off a season marred by the drowning of 9-year-old Grace Bettie on June 27, 2018. The girl was taking part in a Moorhead police youth program outing at the time.
Asked whether the drowning made it more difficult to hire lifeguards this season, Carpenter previously said there was no data to indicate that.
The sand-bottomed pond is filled and emptied each year with Buffalo River water, which is filtered and sanitized.
After initially receiving few applicants for lifeguard positions, the park put out a follow-up call in early June with hopes of getting the pond filled in time for the July 4 holiday, but those efforts fell short.
A similar lifeguard shortage happened in 2014, but the park was able to hire staff and have the pond open by mid-June that year.
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Carpenter said the park will start looking for lifeguards sooner in 2020 — likely in January instead of February or March, as it did this year.
He said they will also look at raising wages. This summer, the park was offering $13.70 per hour for lifeguards. Like this year, the park will also offer to cover the cost of training.
“We’re looking to refresh and reset and be successful right away next year,” he said.
Asked whether the DNR considered closing the swimming pond for good, Carpenter said they reviewed the spectrum of options, but “leadership felt like we’ll be able to recover the program.”
The park’s location, east of Fargo-Moorhead along U.S. Highway 10, makes it a popular spot in warm weather, with most of its 120,000 to 146,000 annual visitors coming during the summer months.