Ronda Kaysen: The public pools in Montclair -- my suburban New Jersey town -- were supposed to open for the summer on Memorial Day weekend. But a message turned up on the township website, telling residents in bold type that because of budget cuts, we wouldn't be able to don our water wings until June 24. And when the pools do finally open, the hours will be shorter. I was stunned.
As I sat on my lawn last weekend, sweltering as temperatures crept close to 90 degrees, I couldn't help but feel cheated. My son wondered why we couldn't go to the pool. I wondered how much more of this we were supposed to take. First, the state decimated our school budget. Then the town shut our neighborhood library six days a week. And now we've lost the best way to stay cool on a hot June afternoon.
We're not alone. Cities and towns across the country are closing and reducing hours at their public pools and parks to deal with budget shortfalls. Even though recreation only makes up about two percent of city and town budgets (according to USA Today), parks get hit hard when the going gets tough.
A local blogger asked readers if they'd consider joining a private pool club instead, where membership costs anywhere from $1,200 to $10,000. This misses the point. Public pools are meant to be accessible to the public -- even members of the public who can't shell out 10 grand for a dip in cold water.
The battle to provide public access to recreation and the outdoors was hard-fought and took years to achieve. It wasn't until Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression that Americans began to see state, county and city parks crop up in their communities in large numbers.
It's ironic that during the Great Recession, these amenities are beginning to slip away. A New York Times editorial pointed out that a shut park isn't merely closed; it's also left open to vandals, and its buildings and paths are left to fall into disrepair. The National Trust for Historic Preservation went so far as to add all of our state parks and state-owned historic sites to its list of America's most endangered historic places. Our parks are part of our culture and our public pools are a place where people, regardless of income, can gather to find relief from the sweltering heat.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing with my brother and sisters at the public pool in the summertime. It's sad that my son will have a month less of summer to do that. I can only hope that towns begin to put more value on the amenities that make communities vibrant and livable and reopen our parks and pools soon.