Although the shores of Long Lake Park have officially opened for the summer, there will not be any lifeguards on duty for this year’s swimming season. Affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Lacey faced multiple staffing challenges and training barriers that prevented the recruitment of new lifeguards. For the summer months, the City of Lacey has issued new waterfront safety guidelines, so that park visitors can stay safe while also enjoying Long Lake Park’s aquatic activities.
Long Lake Park, located in the City of Lacey, is home to a 285-foot swimming beach on the shores of Long Lake. Through beachfront access, park visitors can swim, paddleboard, or kayak in the lake. In addition to water-based activities, the 10-acre park is home to several forested walking trails, barbecue grills, picnic areas, and sand volleyball courts.
Typically, the City of Lacey hires summertime lifeguards, to monitor the safety of Long Lake Park swimmers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, both recruiting and training lifeguards has become an increasing challenge. Formal lifeguard training requirements and certification from the American Red Cross contradict many current social distancing regulations, including guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health. Lifeguard training generally requires close contact with others through small team rescue exercises that closely mimic real-life scenarios.
Jenny Wilson, the aquatics & aquatic fitness recreation supervisor for the City of Lacey, says that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying social distancing regulations, there was no safe way to train new lifeguards and that new lifeguard training won’t resume until social distancing requirements are further relaxed or lifted.
“The social distancing guidelines that we have to put in place have caused some problems with our lifeguard training and the certification process,” explains Wilson. “The Red Cross training for lifeguards is all very close contact. We were kind of hoping that the Red Cross would put some kind of modification in place. That really hasn’t happened, so as we got closer and closer to summer, we realized there were really no options for certifying lifeguards.”
Cities throughout Western Washington are facing similar lifeguard staffing and training challenges, including Lakewood, Renton, Kent, Mercer Island and Bellingham. Many swimming beaches throughout the state will not be staffed with lifeguards this summer.
Kayak and paddleboard rentals may also be put on hold at Long Lake Park this summer. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect small businesses across the region, it is uncertain if the current vendor will be able to operate small craft rentals this season. Rentals may eventually become available in late July and August.
Although lifeguards will not be on staff at Long Lake Park this summer, the City of Lacey encourages park visitors to remain safe and vigilant while enjoying the park. The city posted water safety information on the park website and a sign at the park reminding parents and guardians to watch children closely.
Wilson says a key to water safety is for parents and guardians to really pay attention to children while they are in or near the water. “The most important water safety tip is to watch children closely,” says Wilson. “And make sure children ask permission before going near the water.”
In addition, the City of Lacey recommends adults stay with young swimmers and to always have a “water watcher” provide close attention to young ones in or near the lake. Park visitors are also encouraged to learn how to swim before participating in water activities, never swim alone, and remain aware of any limitations to their swimming ability. It is also recommended that children, inexperienced swimmers, kayakers, and paddleboarders wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while in the water.
For the City of Lacey, it is a top priority to provide recreational space that is both fun and safe for visitors. Although certain aspects of Long Lake Park differ from past summers, it can still be an oasis for water and nature-based activities.
“Although there are no lifeguards on duty, the park is open,” says Wilson. “People can still use the park as they always have although they should remain 6 feet away from people outside their household due to COVID-19. We want everyone to enjoy our parks safely however with no lifeguards, it is crucial that children are closely supervised.”
To learn more about Long Lake Park’s amenities and water safety guidelines, visit the City of Lacey website.