BAR HARBOR—When Elle Yarborough, MDI High School freestyle extraordinaire was just five years old, she decided she wanted to be a member of the MDIY Sharks Swim Team, but couldn’t until she could swim the entire length of the YMCA pool. Determined, she convinced her mom to take her to Glen Mary Park’s wading pool almost every day. And it was there that freestyle swimmer learned how to swim.
“The wading pool was just the right depth and just the right buoyancy for her to ‘swim’ on her own without touching the side or wearing a water bubble,” her mother, Marie Yarborough wrote on the Glen Mary Park Facebook page before the meeting.. “That fall…she hopped in the Y pool, swam her length with no bubble, and got on the team. She and her little sister have been swimming ever since. The rest is history.”
This past Monday evening the Parks and Recreation Committee met at the site of the currently empty and embattled Glen Mary Park wading pool trying to determine if the pool will be history soon, too. The pool was last upgraded in 2009 and is no longer waterproof thanks to multiple broken PVC and black pipes beneath it and is in need of repairs. The park surrounding it, many said at the meeting, also needs a maintenance plan to help with the trees, many of which are coming close to the ends of their life spans.
Jane Boynton, a lifeguard at the pool in the 1980s reminisced about when they had to throw in chlorine tabs to keep the pool safe, and drain it in the middle of July and put fresh water in. She was new to the area and the pool was vital as a way for her to find a place in the community.
“I met so many people here,” she said.
She wasn’t alone. Ellen Grover said, “It’s a social thing for young moms and young families.”
“And dads,” someone in the crowd of over forty people, standing in the gravel, grass and small parking area despite the rain yelled.
“And dads,” Ellen agreed.
The wading pool at Glen Mary Park located on 7.5 acres off Glen Mary Road and Waldron Road has been closed all summer and this spring, town officials announced that it would probably be closed in 2023 as well. That closure currently includes winter skating. Residents expressed their concerns about both the lack of a place for young families to socialize as well as a safe place for so many kids to learn how to swim, stating personal anecdotes of how they learned to swim there or how their children or grandchildren did as well. They also expressed displeasure that the wading pool deteriorated so much that such a shut-down occurred.
The Parks and Recreation Committee listened to the comments at the meeting and answered several questions as did Village Improvement Association member, Dick Cough, and it was Cough who seemed to provide the most hope for those at the outdoor meeting.
The Village Improvement Association has been leasing the pool and surrounding woodland park to the town since 1995 and 2014 respectively. The lease for the pool expires in 2024, which makes it harder for the town to invest in the site, according to Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman John Kelly.
“The town is not going to invest in a piece of land that it has no ownership of,” Kelly said initially and later clarified that this was because of the expiring lease.
Cough explained that the Village Improvement Association could renew the lease earlier than 2024 and would likely be an active participant in both the wading pool and forest’s revitalization. He stated that the association has already drawn up conceptual plans for the wading pool. Those plans would have to be approved by the town and are more of a long-range plan since not only would the plans have to be approved, but engineers and site planners would have to be engaged.
“The dog park proposal was a blessing in disguise,” he said because it made people realize the gem that Glen Mary Park was as well as “rekindled our passion in this park.”
He added that the town has been leasing the space for years for $1 a year and that the town leases the wooded area as well so that the police department could respond to calls in the same way that it responds to all public park incidents. Prior to the town’s lease agreement, it was considered private property.
The wading pool, now under town control, is in need of repair. Those repairs will likely be quite costly and were initially estimated to be at least $250,000. The town currently has $118,000 in capital improvement funds allocated for the repairs. Cough said that the Village Improvement Association has been contacted by the lawyer of an anonymous donor to help with the revitalization, but in order to move forward, plans have to be approved and costs determined.
In a response to questions, Town Councilor, Village Improvement Association member and Parks and Recreation Committee member Jeff Dobs said that parking money can’t be allocated to the pool and there are some other options that the town intends to explore, but most of those options would require at least a year to come to fruition.
The problems at least partially stem from the pool’s location, which is in a swampy area where the water table is rising and then sometimes falling. That rising water pushes up the underside of the pool. Combine that with pipes that are deteriorate every year so that more water infiltrates the system, freezes, and then compromises the pipes more, and you have a cycle of deterioration. When pipes are not blown out they are irreparably damaged over time. The town didn’t fill in the wading pond this winter and all the water that was there during those months leaked through. The wading pond is no longer waterproof.
Last spring the town said it hoped to make small repairs to keep the pool running but officials were unable to find a company to do the work. The wait worries residents like Laura Edwards who hope for short term solutions as well as long term ones.
“It scared the heck out of me that there will be kids,” not learning to swim there for potentially two to three years. Many stated how the wading pond is not quite as intimidating a place to learn as indoor pools, big lakes, or the ocean.
Like the Yarboroughs, for many Bar Harbor residents, the wading pool was when they learned how to swim from the 1950s and on, but that it was also about community. Judy Fuller, who lives across the street from the pond said, “Before cellphone time, they’d come and knock on my door for a drive home.”
She always gave the swimmers a lift. Picnics were had. Children learned to swim. Friends were made. It was a place for children and parents to socialize.
“The greater picture,” Grover said, “is keeping this park as an intown place of joy. There are kids in this park all the time.” She gave a litany of uses from people stringing hammocks in trees during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to daycares, to College of the Atlantic students.
It’s a place where people take care of each other even creating poison ivy warning signs and twenty people volunteering to clean up last spring. Those volunteers collected 78 bags of debris and nine piles of wood.
“There is a need here,” Grover said, “and people want to see it keep going on as it was.”
Kelly said that there wasn’t disagreement with that in the committee, but he was not in a favor for a patchwork approach for repairs. Valerie Peacock said that this was an item that could also be discussed in the Comprehensive Planning Committee’s meetings this fall.
Jackie Tapley of Tapley Pools in Hermon helped revive the wading pool the last time it was in danger back in the 1970s and Tapley was at the meeting to offer assistance again.
The park was originally conveyed to the Village Improvement Society by Mary Shannon in a deed dated in September 1894. The deed had conditions for the area’s use and reads, “The conveyance is made upon the following express conditions subsequent, to wit, that the property above described shall be held forever as a public park for the use of persons either permanently or temporarily resident in Bar Harbor; that it should be called Glen Mary Park; that the fine old pine trees thereon shall be specially cared for; that settees shall be placed and maintained thereon for the benefit of the public; and that no buildings detrimental to a park shall be erected on the land.”
Mary Shannon is also known in town history for trying to give the town a lot for a public library, but since she stipulated that no Catholic could ever be a trustee, her gift was refused. Her cottage home was The Ledge Lawn, which is now the Ledgelawn Inn.
“Glen Mary is the first park ever in Bar Harbor,” Cough said. “Basically, she wanted the trees taken care of and there to be a park for everyone enjoy.”
The Parks and Recreation Committee consists of five members: John Kelly, chair; Greg Veilleux, vice chair; Desiree Sirois, secretary; Bob Huff, YMCA representative, and Jeff Dobbs, who is also on the Bar Harbor Town Council. All members except Huff were at the meeting.
To find out more about the Parks and Recreation Committee and to contact its members, click here.
To find out more about the Village Improvement Society, link here.
The MDI YMCA has some open swim times available free to community members. Its schedule is here.
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