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Splashing into summer: West River Community Center's outdoor pool a hit with community

The West River Community Center opened its outdoor pool. A look at summer fun opportunities through a photo spread, interviews with lifeguards and families.

Keala McCluskey and her son take a deep breath before plunging into the lazy river at the West River Community Center on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Dickinson.
Keala McCluskey and her son take a deep breath before plunging into the lazy river at the West River Community Center on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Dickinson. The outdoor pool is open now until Aug. 21, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — From three water slides, play features, a lazy river, baby pool and more, the West River Community Center’s outdoor pool is one of the dominating summer attraction sites in Dickinson, reaching an average of about 300 people per day throughout the three-month period.

Since the WRCC conducted its expansion in 2014, the outdoor pool, as well as the friendly atmosphere, keeps bringing people back for its swimming amenities each summer, Recreation/Facilities Manager Caleb Burgard said.

“Anytime you think summer, you think pool or spending days at the pool. I know my girls are big on that — spending their days here and wanting to come here especially (since it’s) something to do in Dickinson,” Burgard said. “There’s a lot of events and activities going on, but something that can take place all day, every day is helpful, especially (in Dickinson) — the weather’s kind of unpredictable. So if you can enjoy three months out of the year, obviously they like to get out and do that.”

During a 70-degree afternoon Thursday by the pool side, Keala McCluskey, of Dickinson , brought her son to the outdoor pool as a way to enjoy something different throughout the summer.

“It’s something that my son looks forward to every summer, especially with the outdoor pool,” McCluskey said. “Just having another summer activity (is great); there isn’t a whole lot outside of signing up for sports… It’s just a great attraction that Dickinson has.”

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Outdoor pool operations

Burgard noted that the average daily head count is dependent on the weather and whether there’s events happening at the outdoor pool. When the lifeguards are fully staffed, about 400 to 450 people can be spotted at the facility.

As the head lifeguard at the West River Community Center outdoor pool, Luke Heiser monitors a zone during shift Thursday, June 30, 2022.
As the head lifeguard at the West River Community Center outdoor pool, Luke Heiser monitors a zone during shift Thursday, June 30, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

The day pass includes everything at the WRCC, Burgard said, adding that there are also youth, adult and spectator options. For those who have a WRCC membership, the outdoor pool is automatically included. There are also one-month and three-month memberships readily available for people to utilize the outdoor pool amenities.

“The daily fee is very reasonable as far as water parks are concerned,” Burgard said, adding that other water parks across the state vary in price. “... It’s nice here. You have the shade structures, obviously bathrooms, locker rooms, concessions, the three bigger slides for those older kids and then obviously, the kiddie pool and then the smaller play feature for those little kids.”

Safety first with lifeguards

Each day, there are 11 lifeguards stationed throughout the WRCC from the outdoor pool to the indoor pools, which are only open to adults during outdoor pool operations. Facility Supervisor Andrew Grafton oversees the lifeguards and water slide attendants. He also manages all of the facility’s swim lessons, admissions and concessions stand.

“... We move around our capacity based off what we have for guards just to keep it safe for everybody,” Grafton said. “We don’t want to be completely overwhelmed at one point, especially with a lot of the guards (who) are high school, college kids. So we don’t want to overwhelm them too much.”

Grafton added, “Each lifeguard has a zone when they’re on stands, so they have a certain area to watch. So they can keep track of how many people they have — who’s a better swimmer, who’s not, kind of where to watch more, that type of stuff.”

The summer job for many lifeguards is a chance to have a job that’s flexible and a way to give back at a young age, Grafton noted.
For head lifeguard Luke Heiser, this summer marks his third year at the outdoor pool.

“Personally, I care a lot about people's safety and being a lifeguard helps me actually help people — making sure all the kids are safe,” Heiser said. “I know a lot of parents and people come here just to unwind, and it’s important that we, as lifeguards, actually give them a chance to relax and unwind.”

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As a lifeguard, Heiser, 18, said that one would be surprised how many close-calls there can be, especially with young children.

“Recently, and this only is something that happens in the books, and it’s called a double rescue. And it’s where you have to save two people at once. And that happened to me, recently, where I had to actually jump in and save two people at the same time. That was one experience. And then, there’s been a few times where I’ve had people pass out and I’ve had to help them out right away. So training does come in handy,” he remarked.

Luke Heiser, head lifeguard, is returning to the outdoor pool at the West River Community Center for his third year.
Luke Heiser, head lifeguard, is returning to the outdoor pool at the West River Community Center for his third year.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Seeing all the “kids’ quirks” makes being a lifeguard all worthwhile, he added.

“There’s a lot of funny and just charming kids. They tend to make our day,” he said. “... A couple of weeks ago, I had a kid just talk to me for a while and follow me around and it’s kids like that just makes our job so worth it, totally.”

Read more on local events
The Phil Patterson Memorial Bandshell was awash in color as area residents participated in the annual Dickinson Parks and Recreation Chalk Walk event. Dickinson High School Art Club members showcased their artistic flair with a series of pieces highlighting young artists in the community.

Community partnerships

With the outdoor pool, Burgard noted that they have multiple community partnerships with businesses, such as the recent event where Bravera Bank sponsored admissions for a day to give those who may not be able to afford a membership an opportunity to check out the pool. Other partnerships include Marathon Petroleum, who will throw a pool party on Aug. 2 , and Badlands Big Sticks, who will provide an opportunity to swim with the team on July 19 . “Swim Under the Stars” will take place on July 29 , and is one night where the outdoor pool will stay open until 10 p.m.

“Between the different partners and community businesses, we try and kind of spice it up with some events that we can throw throughout the summer,” Burgard added.

For a complete breakdown of the outdoor season passes, visit westrivercommunitycenter.com/groups/outdoor-pool . The outdoor pool is open now until Aug. 21, with daily entry from noon to 7 p.m.

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READ MORE BY JACKIE JAHFETSON
“There’s a little bit of something for everyone. You come with your family, your kids can find something, the moms can find something, the dads can find something,” Jessica Quandt, owner of JQ Clothing, said.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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