Parks and Recreation Committee Hears Public Thoughts About Wading Pool’s Future Use
BAR HARBOR—Bar Harbor is a town full of opinions, but there was one thing that everyone gathered before the Parks and Recreation Committee Monday night seemed to agree about: they loved Glen Mary’s wading pool.
“Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘We should get rid of Glen Mary,’” Marie Yarborough asked the approximately twenty members of the public at the committee’s meeting. “They like cruise ships. They don’t like cruise ships. They like dogs. They don’t like dogs.”
But, Glen Mary and its wading pool is an in-town oasis, she said.
And among the public, town staff, and committee members that gathered in Council Chambers at the Bar Harbor Municipal Building Monday night, there was a consensus that Glen Mary was something special, something that needed to be taken care of because it makes the Bar Harbor community special, and that it was something that deserved a future.
One by one, members of the public told members of the committee and Public Works Director Bethany Leavitt how Glen Mary shaped their lives or others, how it was a place that built community as children learned to swim, neighbors shoveled snow off ice together, young families and grandparents converged to encourage children to splash and play in the water or just push someone on a swing set.
It has been a place of gathering for decades.
This year that changed. 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 due to broken piping beneath the ground. Leavitt said the system was last upgraded in 2009, which was before Leavitt’s time in Bar Harbor. That upgrade was supposed to give the pool an additional 25 years of life. She said she can’t say that the pool will be open by a certain date because she needs to first talk to a designer or consultant and have a plan and understanding of the future scope of work. She wants the upgrades or rebuild to last this time.
The Parks and Recreation Committee held a public forum to hear community member’s thoughts about the Glen Mary Wading Pool’s potential rehabilitation and what people would like at the site.
Many people who spoke expressed a desire for a year-round facility that would support a wading pool in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Benches, a place for shaded seating, lights, and town involvement cleaning the surface for ice skating were all mentioned. Some discussed a deeper wading pool. A few spoke of a designated space for a splash pad, but in the convivial back-and-forth discussion, which lasted just over an hour (including staff and committee members), there was an overwhelming sense of agreement that Glen Mary was something that needed to stay and when it did stay, it didn’t have to be fancy.
A design for the reconstruction of the Glen Mary wading pool and adjoining areas has not been approved yet or submitted. The questions of how big a wading pool might be and if a splash pad might also be built are still up in the air. However, the funds to do the work have doubled thanks to a matching $50,000 donation to the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association’s November $50,000 donation for the work.
The pool is sited where there is a natural spring. It’s the same spring that gave Spring Street (which borders the park) its name. That spring was eventually fenced in sometime around 1983 and a wading pool was created. Some in attendance remembered the pool being much deeper in the 1960s and 1970s. It also used to have a lifeguard. And a fire pit. People would roast marshmallows and hot dogs there.
In July town officials had announced that the wading pool would probably be closed in 2023 as well. That closure currently included winter skating last year. At a July Parks and Recreation Meeting on the site, 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
The VIA 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. A new lease has still not been signed by the town and VIA.
Many attending Monday stressed their hopes for a year-round area and for the town to help residents take care of the ice during winter months.
Leavitt said that no one from the town is against taking care of the ice.
Jackie Levesque said it was important to not build it as a statement but to keep it with the aesthetic of the Glen Mary woods that it is green, restful, and peaceful.
“We want to hear the kids laughing and playing,” she said. Anything flashy wouldn’t adhere to the aesthetic of the park, she said.
Committee member Greg Veilleux said the committee, which acts as an advisory board to the Town Council, heard how well loved the park is. He’d also like to hear comments about the physical size of the pool. Should it be bigger, smaller, deeper, more shallow? The center is currently about 3-feet deep. The pond is over 200 feet long. The ice tends to not be terribly thick—usually around 10 inches.
“It’s a really special place for folks that have been there 50 years and folks like me who haven’t been there for 50 years,” Yarborough said. “Anything that has to do with the children in this town is an investment in the future.”
Glen Mary is that kind of investment. Yarborough’s daughters are both competitive swimmers and both spent hours at Glen Mary. Like others, Yarborough spoke of shoveling off the ice with neighbors. People pull up with their cars to light the area as kids play hockey. Ellen Grover spoke of that community spirit and work to keep the skating rink going as well.
For many years Walter Seward took care of the skating pond, tending fires in an outdoor wood stove, helping children (and adults sometimes) getting their skates off or on. In the early 2000s, the Bangor Daily News quoted Seward as saying that “It’s like generation to generation, and I get to keep making people happy.”
Walter is gone now. The pool and pond have the potential to still stay on. Evergreens still flank many of the sides. Houses still sit across the street.
Yarborough asked about what was needed to move forward and about the drawings that the VIA brought to a July meeting. Those drawings have not been officially submitted to the town. To move forward, Leavitt said, she needed to understand what the community wanted for functions, goals, and a discussion of age groups using it. Her next step is to take the public discussion and create a concept plan with experts. Then that concept plan would likely be tailored.
Part of the process is going to be looking at the existing filtration for the pump house, which she believes was sized for a certain system. She does not yet know what size system it was built for and said the town would need to bring someone out to look into it. Another part of starting the process is getting a survey of the wetland area done, defining where the wetlands are, and what is the buildable area. The biggest issue is the drainage, she said. She can’t tell anyone to spend the money to build or rebuild if the pool is not going to be sturdy and stable and durable.
Back in late 1983 the Bar Harbor Town Council entertained six options for the pool’s future. At the time there was a lot of worry that the town would reduce the size of the 200-foot pool.
Judy Fuller said, “I’ve lived across from Glen Mary pool for almost 50 years. I’ve seen generations grow up.” She spoke of kids wading, playing Marco Polo, the sounds of laughter and community.
“I’ll never forget the lovely sound of hockey pucks when I was trying to sleep,” she joked, and seconded the importance of the skating rink continuing in winter.
“It was a real real loss,” this summer, she said.
Mary Shannon donated a piece of her family’s estate to the VIA in 1894. That land became Glen Mary Park. Her estate also included the Ledgelawn Inn. The land became a park. Around 1900 the park was flooded for skating.
Chair John Kelly said that the Glen Mary Pool would likely be a standing item on the Parks and Recreation Committee’s agenda. The next meeting is now for a currently unspecified date in January. Emailed comments about the Glen Mary pool can be sent to Glenmarypool@barharbormaine.gov.
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