Happy Days for Summer Adventures Kids Despite Heat, Rain, and a Lifeguard Shortage

“If I had my way, we would have summer all year.”

Bedford Recreation Director Amy Hamilton is not planning a move to a warm climate. Rather, she is fantasizing about replicating the success of this past summer’s programming to fill the entire calendar.

And she is quick to credit the people who made it happen. “The leadership is just amazing, and we have such a tremendous staff, with energy and commitment.”

Summer Adventures and Springs Brook Park earlier this month completed their second season in a Covid-19 environment. Hamilton characterized the summer as “very successful.” Hamilton and the department staff are still compiling “all sorts of data – attendance data, financial data.”

“The first summer — there aren’t even words,” Hamilton said, noting that for one thing, the park was closed in 2020. “This summer was closer to typical – the experience for the kids probably seemed typical. Behind the scenes, we knew there were preventive measures for Covid. There are extra logistics for everything.”

The three 2-week Summer Adventures sessions, based at the high school, were completely sold out – more than 1,000 enrollments from kindergarten through age 14, including a core of “just phenomenal” middle-school-age counselors-in-training. The staff of 65 features several who come back year after year. “Our summer staff is unbelievable and they can make any experience great for the kids,” the director said.

The weather provided its own challenges. “One week we had a 40-degree temperature differential. On Monday it was 97 degrees; by Friday it was 57 and raining,” Hamilton recalled. “There were too many rainy days, and kudos to the staff because they kept the energy going, even escorting the kids into the building.”

“Little things” changed because of the health and safety limitations. “Our fifth- and sixth-grade program wasn’t able to travel,” Hamilton said. She emphasized that “kids are resilient. Kids were smiling and laughing and happy and parents were saying the kids had a great time.”

Hiring has been a challenge for small businesses nationwide, and Hamilton was relieved that she was able to operate without compromise. “We did have fewer applicants, but we were able to fully staff all of our summer programs — except lifeguard and swim instructors,” Hamilton said.

“We were able to offer the lessons for Summer Adventures, which was a key, but there were days when we couldn’t open the entire park,” she continued. The staff divided the facility into quadrants, and “some of the beaches were closed when we had to limit the areas when we were short of guards.”

The shortage is region-wide, Hamilton said. One reason is that Covid-19 limitations deterred lifeguards from obtaining recertification over the past year. “We were hoping the lifeguard shortage was a blip and it certainly wasn’t unique to Bedford. We called surrounding communities and the reply was the same everywhere — all shorthanded.

Indeed, last winter, she said, aquatics personnel from about 25 communities – “everything from ocean and beaches to pools and ponds” – met to talk about assisting each other and preparing for the season. And the common theme was lifeguards.

Summer Adventures swim students comprised a little more than half of the park’s total attendance. “That continues to validate the importance of the park to the Summer Adventures program,” Hamilton said. Lessons began before the beach was open to the public, and there was about an hour-and-a-half of overlap.

The chronic water clarity issues at Springs Brook Park weren’t prominent this summer, Hamilton said, and that probably had a lot to do with limited use. The pond was only open five days a week with reduced hours. “All of that helps because the problem is when the sand is stirred up from the bottom,” she explained.

Springs Brook Park staff tested the water daily – sometimes more than once a day – to ensure clarity met safety standards, she added. “We didn’t have to shut any areas this whole summer because of clarity issues.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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