Oops! Open Water Swimming Back on in Mass

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, an agency under the State Governor’s control, has reversed its decision to ban open water swimming at Walden Pond. The about-face occurred less than a week after a decision banning open water swimming created a semi-major public backlash, and front page news in metro-Boston.

It turns out a lot of the State's legislators are open water swimmers, and triathletes, including State Representative Jim Hawkins, who penned a letter representative of the concerns of affected swimmers.

The popular destination for the state’s triathletes and open water swimmers will be open to open water swimming from 5am to 10am and from 6pm to 8pm on weekdays. On weekends the Pond is open from 7am to 10am and from 6pm to 8pm.

The full text of the advisory is available here. The hours for open water swimming are specifically designed to avoid the times lifeguards are on duty. “To ensure that DCR lifeguards can focus exclusively on the safety of visitors in the designated swimming area, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, open water swimming is permitted during park hours only before and after lifeguard shifts.”

A list of new rules have been drafted that swimmers must obey, such as, “Swimmers must stay at least 50 feet away from a boat or fisherman to avoid interference. (Entangling fishing lines is a violation of state regulations.)”

Readers can form their own conclusions, but the advisory appears to me to contain thinly veiled grievance over the blowback to the original rule. Lifeguards, waders, visitors, boaters, fishermen are all listed as protected elements. Open water swimmers are not “visitors.” They are – what? – non-native species introduced into the Pond?

“Open water swimming is an inherently dangerous activity,” says the advisory. To that I say, the lack of activity is an inherently dangerous activity.

The fate of the bill introduced by the Governor, to increase the fine for profligate and lawless open water swimming to $500, is unknown, at least unknown to me. The person named as the contact for the original, and for the new, advisory is still not taking telephone calls. (Which invites the question of why a contact name and phone are listed on these advisories.) However, it is possible emails are getting answered and I may yet receive an answer to mine.