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Paynesville Press - March 23, 2005

City not hiring lifeguards for beach in 2005

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The city of Paynesville has decided not to hire lifeguards at Veteran's Memorial Park (commonly known as Van's Beach) this summer.

Citing a lack of swimmers who use the beach, the city - at the recommendation of the park and tree board - has opted not to hire lifeguards for the 2005 season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The beach will still be open, but swimming will be done at one's own risk, according to public works director Ron Mergen.

Without lifeguards at the beach, the diving raft will not be used this year because of safety concerns, said Mergen. Buoys will still mark the swimming area, and there will be a couple of docks at the beach. This will be the second time in the last five years that the city hasn't hired lifeguards for the beach. In 2001, for the first time since the 1950s, the city didn't hire lifeguards because of previous difficulties in finding qualified guards.

Map of Veterans' Park Midway through the summer in 2001, the city removed the raft because of discipline and safety concerns. Public concerns about roughhousing and bad behavior at the lifeguard-less beach prompted the city to start hiring lifeguards again in 2002.

For the past couple of years, however, beach usage has dwindled to the point where there may only be five or six swimmers in an entire day, Mergen said. It was just too impractical to hire lifeguards when so few people used the beach, Mergen explained.

It cost between $6,000 and $7,000 for the city to hire lifeguards each summer. However, since the city decided not to hire lifeguards for 2005, Paynesville Township officials elected to not contribute $4,000 toward the park's operation, as it had in previous years.

Whether discipline will be a concern at the beach this summer is unknown, especially with the number of visitors to the beach being so low, said Mergen. Even with lifeguards on duty, roughhousing and other bad behavior simply could be done after the lifeguards went home, he added.

The city will evaluate the need for lifeguards on a yearly basis, Mergen said. If discipline becomes a problem, lifeguards will be reinstated, added Mergen.

For the time being, the park and tree board felt that money could be better spent elsewhere, said Mergen. This summer, the city plans to upgrade the main shelter at Veteran's Memorial Park, estimated to cost about $20,000. The city council has approved applying for a DNR grant that could pay for half of these upgrade costs.

The new shelter would measure 24' by 48', nearly double its current size, and would feature electrical outlets and counterspace to allow visitors to use crock pots and other appliances for food preparation.

The city has applied for the DNR grant for the past three years and was turned down each time, but Mergen hopes this year will be different. That the city has applied for the grant, and been turned down for a few years, could make a difference to the DNR when determining who gets funding this time, he said.

If, however, Paynesville is turned down by the DNR again, the city has discussd paying for the improvements on its own. Because the shelter is in dire need of repairs, it may not be wise to wait another year to apply for the DNR grant again, Mergen recently told the council.

Another change at the park could take place in 2006, when the city expects to have a DNR fishing pier in place.

The pier, which could cost up to $20,000, would be furnished and placed by the DNR. The city would need to reduce the size of the swimming area to create room on the north end of the beach for the fishing pier. The city would be responsible for installing a handicap-accessible path from the parking area to the pier, which would also be handicap-accessible, said Mergen.

DNR piers are typically six feet wide and up to 104 feet long, said Mergen, though the size would be determined by the DNR based on the size of the lake and the anticipated number of users. The piers and their railings are usually made of treated lumber with plastic injected floats and are very nice, he added.

According to Mergen, it is very likely that the DNR will provide the pier because it would be the only dedicated fishing pier on Lake Koronis. The city should learn whether DNR will provide the pier later this summer.

The pier could be a great asset to the park, Mergen told the council recently, as anglers already like to fish along the banks at the park. Unfortunately, anglers have been known to interfere with swimmers by casting into the swimming area, said Mergen, so the fishing pier would benefit swimmers by keeping fishing lures and hooks out of the swimming area and would benefit anglers by providing a safe, legal place to fish.

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