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Water activity picking up as temperatures rise
Swimming experts prepare for busy summer season
Water training
First responders are prepping for a busy summer in the water. A collaborative training session among local fire departments was held at the Basalt Whitewater Park on Saturday, June 1. - photo by Chris Lougeay

Avalanches are yielding to the power of the sun. Indy Pass is open. Kids are out of school. 

It’s finally feeling like summer around the Roaring Fork. As we trade in our skis and snowboards for bikes and kayaks, locals and visitors alike turn toward water for recreation.  

Staying safe in and around water is a personal responsibility. The life you save just might be your own. While whitewater recreational activities are inherently dangerous, even a lazy float down the Roaring Fork River can be treacherous if you are unprepared.  

Here are a few things to remember before you get your feet wet.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) are required by Colorado state law.

Stay on established trails, take your trash out with you, and avoid glass containers near water. 

River flows during this time of year can reach 2,000 cubic feet per second or higher.

First responders are also prepping for a busy summer.  A collaborative training session among local fire departments was held at the Basalt Whitewater Park on Saturday, June 1. Firefighters from Basalt Fire Rescue, Roaring Fork Fire Rescue and the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department came together to practice swift water rescue techniques. 

Division Chief of Training for the Basalt and Snowmass fire protection districts, Terry Cox, was leading the training. Although Chief Cox appeared suspiciously dry on the river banks, he expertly poured his 15 years of fire rescue, military (Army), and Border Patrol experience into the training session.  

“The best kind of rescue is no rescue at all,” Cox says with affable magnetic energy, stressing accident prevention and water safety education.

Boy Scouts Troop 242 swims for merit badges in the Basalt Pool. - photo by Chris Lougeay
A team of 11 rough and rugged trainees braved the frigid snowmelt runoff dressed in full dry suits, helmets and specialized PFDs. Cox pointed out that the river depth was still pretty low for this time of year. Bumping along the riverbed while getting washed over rapids, several of the participants grimaced through smiles and mouthfuls of water. If they weren’t enjoying the training, it was impossible to tell.

However, summer swimming isn’t just limited to lakes and rivers.  

The Basalt Pool at Arbaney Park, one of the valley’s most popular swimming spots, opened Memorial Day weekend. The pool holds 220,000 gallons of water, has six lanes for lap swimming, a diving well and a shallow, 2-foot play area. 

Brian Passente, the recently hired pool manager, brings more than 15 years of Red Cross certified water safety instruction to Basalt. He was formerly at the Snowmass Recreation Center. Passente proudly announced that he finished training seven new lifeguards for the Basalt Pool.  

Daycare and childcare groups use the pool for playtime and structured swimming activities. All the groups keep Passente busy when he isn’t teaching.

“We have group lessons from 9 a.m. till noon, Monday through Thursday,” says Passente. “It’s important to start kids swim lessons at a young age.”

You can sign up for swim lessons online at Registration can also be done at the pool during operation hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Kerry Wirth couldn’t agree more with the importance of swim lessons. Not only is Wirth the swim lesson coordinator at the Basalt Pool, she is also a merit badge counselor with Boy Scouts of America (BSOA).  The local BSOA Troop 242 was founded in Basalt in 1991. 

“BSOA is extremely water safety conscious,” says Wirth. Of the 140 possible merit badges, 10 are related to water safety. “Last summer, we had seven scouts earn lifesaving, sailing and swimming merit badges.”

Taking care of a public swimming pool is no small task.  It takes a dedicated team to keep the pool safe and chemically balanced. 

Healthy and safe swimming week, the Center for Disease Control’s annual event, was May 20-26 this year. The theme for 2019 is “Pool chemistry for health and safe swimming.”

Kids (and adults) peeing in the pool might seem trivial, but it happens every day, says 50-year swim instructor Toni Kronberg. Owner of Water Babies swim company, Kronberg has long been a vocal proponent of aquatic recreation in the Roaring Fork Valley.

If you’ve ever walked into an indoor pool area and sensed a strong smell of chemicals, you might be surprised to know it’s not chlorine you’re smelling. According to the CDC what you’re smelling is a group of chemical compounds created when chlorine reacts with pee, poop, sweat or dirt from swimmers.  Known as chloramines, these compounds irate the eyes, respiratory tract, can aggravate asthma and cause that strong chemical smell.

Here are a few things you can do to help prevent chloramines from forming in public swimming pools.

  • Shower before you get in the water.
  • Don’t pee of poop in the water.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks.
  • Check diapers, and change them as needed in the diaper-change area.  

Kronberg, whose swimming activity has increasingly turned towards lobbying work, can’t stress enough the importance of exposing kids to a healthy swimming environment.

“Where else can you float like an astronaut?” Kronberg asks rhetorically. “Swim lessons are confidence builders and a great bonding experience between family members.”