Minding Your Business: Local pools could be an investment in the community | Opinion

Before diving into this week’s MYB topic, here’s a look at some interesting business notes and events that recently came through my email:

• AAA said consumers are finding “no love” at gas pumps, even during the week of Valentine’s Day. In fact, gas prices have reached a seven-year high. According to AAA, rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine have made the oil market “even tighter.” The Tri-Cities average gas price is $3.19 while Tennessee’s average gas price is currently $3.26.

• According to the US Department of Labor, inflation jumped 7.5% in the past year, which is a 40-year high. According to the department, consumer prices jumped 7.5% last month compared with 12 months earlier, the steepest year-over-year increase since February 1982.

• The Kingsport Chamber will hold a Kid’s Business Expo on Feb. 25 at MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort & Convention Center from 7:30 to 11 am The expo will include items and services for sale by area middle schoolers with entrepreneurial aspirations. The Kingsport Chamber will also hold its Fourth Friday Breakfast at MeadowView at 7:30 a.m. The event is sponsored by ETSU. Both events are free to the public.

Notes from the field

We are more than knee deep in winter, but lately, my mind has drifted back to warmer weather and growing up at the pool.

I come from a family of water-loving folks (and not just because my last name lends itself to an affinity for aquatics). I spent a few summers as a lifeguard as did the majority of my sisters. We all spent numerous summers on swim teams, attending birthday parties at a nearby pool in the summer and begging our parents to take us to the pool on hot July days. However, similar poolside opportunities for kids nowadays may be all in the past as many local pools have closed their doors for good across the state.

My colleague, Cliff Hightower, recently wrote an article on the expected permanent closing of the pool at Warriors Path State Park. Recently, state officials announced that the Warriors Path pool would close along with the pool at Roan Mountain State Park. Eleven of 20 pools at state parks will close and all pools in East Tennessee will close, state records show.

More details can be found in the article, but, in short, deterioration, finances and a low user-turnout are all cited as reasons for the closures, according to local lawmakers.

I understand maintaining any facility takes investments, both physical and financial. They also take support, both from the community and its local government entities. But there are certain projects, I believe, that are worth that extra effort, creative solution generation and consideration. To me, pools are one of those projects.

After all, Kingsport does own and operate the Kingsport Aquatic Center with outdoor and indoor swimming options. It’s proved to be a worthy addition to the city with many of the offerings of an outdoor, public pool. If the aquatic center has been able to succeed, what are places like Roan Mountain and Warriors Path missing? Perhaps it doesn’t have the draw of being a regional facility. And it is entirely possible there truly isn’t a large number of folks filtering into various pools within the region. It’s also worth considering the pandemic’s impact on those numbers.

Many pools were closed due to COVID-19 from 2020-21. However, camping increased across the country. Our local parks and camping destinations have been filled with eager families ready to find adventure that doesn’t exist in their living rooms. As national parks have seen record guests across the country, it’s possible that sort of interest could support an upgraded pool at places like Warriors Path. Wouldn’t now be the time we consider offering an outdoor option such as a public pool coming off of two years of dealing with the pandemic, its shutdowns and increased indoor time? My goal of this week’s MYB column is not to point fingers, but rather to challenge the idea that pools are not worth the investment.

When the Times News asked online readers what businesses they wanted to see come to Kingsport, many commenters didn’t offer a specific company or restaurant name — instead they suggested more options for local kids and teenagers. Many were concerned with offering activities that could keep kids from instead jumping into other less-than-healthy interests and activities.

Meanwhile, other online commenters on the KTN’s recent pool update had a lot to say on the topic.

“I’m saddened to see the pool close,” one commenter posted. “As others have mentioned, low-cost access to pools for families has dwindled. It was a wonderful location for a pool. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from that pool and the water slide (which I know has been closed a long time.) I know they are expensive to repair but it would be a huge draw for the park.”

Another Times News online reader commented on the article on Facebook, saying, “Since when does a state park have to make money for an amenity? Parks are paid for by taxes. Let’s spend the money here for the enjoyment of people.”

“So disappointing,” another commented. “I would come from Hampton to use it. It was always crowded! It was inexpensive fun.”

Many probably remember the Legion Pool centrally located in the heart of Kingsport next to the civic center. It had diving boards (including, from my perspective, a terrifying high dive), an Olympic-sized pool with a deep and low end, a kiddie pool complete with its own blue seal squirting water from its nose and more summer memories than that green patch of grass it turned into looks like it would hold.

I’m sure I’m not the only Kingsport native who spent many days, afternoons and evenings swimming in the light blue waters of the Legion as a young kid. To put it honestly, it certainly had its rowdiness and riffraff. But there were many moments I realized those kids who rode their bikes to the Legion and spent the day there needed a place to be just as much as any other person there.

Places like the Legion, the old Riverview pool (that is now the Riverview Splash Pad), and Sevier Terrace in Kingsport were spots that offered family fun, time to soak up the sunshine and partake in pool races and games and enjoy the freedom and safety that Kingsport has long offered. My mom often commented on the privilege we had growing up to be able to go to a public pool that was safe and not riddled with the troubles other cities and towns faced. That was never lost on me whether it was at a parade, a downtown concert, a Fun Fest gathering or a day out at the pool.

I know nostalgia alone isn’t a viable reason to support a project or not. And all this is not to say those past and current facilities weren’t aging and in need of extra funds for upkeep, much less for upgrades.

Some of these local pools are well over 50 years old and counting. But it seems grants designed to promote physical activity, school systems or other programs could offer support to local pools. It could also be seen as restoration of local landmarks as well.

It’s possible these options have been considered and the time has simply come to an end for public pools. But it seems to me kids nowadays are in need, more than ever, of an outdoor, physical outlet. Local families need low-priced options for places they can take their kids in the summer. And it seems the community could use local, regional and state support to keep these community pools open and serving families and kids as they have for decades before.

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