It didn’t feel like summer Tuesday, but the start of La Crosse’s swimming season is just around the corner.
When the season officially starts Friday, June 7, there won’t be any lifeguards this year at the city’s two beaches, Pettibone and Black River Beach, and beach-goers will be swimming at their own risk.
“We will still open the restroom facilities at each beach in the morning and close them in the evening, so those will be available to anyone who is still interested in going to the beaches,” La Crosse recreation coordinator Leah Burns said.
The city also will put up a buoy system to mark the safe swimming zones June 7, although people will be able to use the beach before then.
“We suggest that if you do use the beach, then you stay within those suggested zones,” Burns said.
While the signs declaring no lifeguards are on duty protect the city from liability, the parks staff acknowledged that it will be more dangerous. Burns said the city will offer free water-safety courses Wednesday and again May 30 to talk about such things as looking out for currents and how to properly secure life jacket.
The parks department also will continue to monitor the beaches for bacteria and E. coli.
The city announced earlier this year that it will no longer staff lifeguards at the beaches due to the difficulty in finding qualified people to do the job and limited hours they were available to be lifeguards.
“It’s a different kind of lifeguarding. It’s far more complicated than lifeguarding a regular pool because you can’t see the bottom and the overall area on a beachfront is so much larger than a pool facility,” Burns said.
If people aren’t comfortable swimming without supervision, Burns encouraged them to visit Erickson or the North Side Community Pool, which open June 7, or Veterans Memorial Pool when it opens later this summer. Admission to the pool is $3 for children or $4 for adults. Memberships are available for $50 for a single La Crosse resident for the entire season or $100 for a nonresident, or $100 for a La Crosse family and $200 for nonresidents’ families.
The city also offers punch passes for $30 and will host several free-admission days at the pools. Memberships and passes can be purchased at the Black River Beach Neighborhood Center, 1433 Rose St., or the La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department office at City Hall, 400 La Crosse St.
The city is also looking for more pool lifeguards.
“Finding staff for our three facilities is a challenge for us, so anybody interested in a position, please apply at city hall,” Burns said.
While the lack of lifeguards is the biggest change, the city is relaxing some rules and emphasizing others at the beaches.
People will now be allowed to wear lifejackets at the beaches.
However, the city will not allow dogs, smoking or campfires on the beaches.
“Please don’t be lighting any fires during the day or during the night. It can pose significant injury to anyone who is walking the beach, any of our staff who are cleaning the beaches in the morning. Just because they are not red and flaming and smoking, it still poses significant danger,” Burns said.
Those ordinances will be enforced by the La Crosse Police Department and violators could face fines.
For more any information, call the parks department at 608-789-7533.