Lake Minnewaska was a favorite daytrip in my youth. We spent many a summer afternoon floating on inner tubes and paddling all around the shore to pick blueberries growing from the rocky outcroppings that could not be reached from land. Our beloved family cat, Minnewaska (Minne for short), came from an old barn on the property.
The beautiful area achieved state-park status in the 1980s, but unfortunately this resulted in a reduction of swim opportunities. The lake that had been open for unrestricted swimming was closed entirely. Later, a tiny beach area was added, along with a rope that kept everyone penned in close to the lifeguard stand. It may have been safer, but it was a lot less fun and completely unconducive to swimming or blueberry picking.
Some determined lake swimmers who remembered the good old days banded together shortly before 2000 and worked very hard for more than two years to create more swimming opportunities. In a success that in hindsight seems both genius and impossible to live without, but that was very hard won, they formed the Minnewaska Distance Swimmers Association and got a 200-yard line anchored into the lake for certified swimmers to swim around. Within one year, they had more than 400 members, and that number has more than doubled since then. Check out the history for a blow-by-blow of what it takes to accomplish something like this (there was a “swim-in” protest!), and send a thought of appreciation.
Thanks to MDSA, a thriving swim community has developed at this Ulster County, New York, state park. You have to complete a swim test to join initially and then renew each year by sending in a form and $20, which offsets some of the costs incurred by the administration of this all-volunteer group. Even for just one swim per year, it’s worth it.
The walk along old carriage roads to get to the beach is a treat in itself, and from the water the light-colored cliffs, blooming mountain laurel, and trees are part of the reward every time you take a breath. Though the distance swimmers’ private beach area is sometimes fairly full, there’s always plenty of room out around the lane line. The lane line has larger floats every 50 yards, making it easy to do a 200 IM or other interesting variations during the 200-yard laps.
My first visit of the season was the day before 8 Bridges stage 1, just to loosen up and make sure the goggles I’d brought would be OK for a loooong swim. Mom and I drove over in the mid-afternoon, and she walked to the beach the long way in order to check out the blueberry situation. (The lake is so enticing that it inspired Mom to take the swim test a couple years ago, but a shoulder issue prevents her from swimming right now.)
One of the best parts of visiting is running into friends, and this trip set a new bar. We saw: Carolyn from FISH Masters, Dave and Clare of 8 Bridges, Gracie (who I’d spent the day with on a boat circling Manhattan the day before and who would begin resetting the 8 Bridges record book the next day), MDSA coordinator Judy, painter of artwork in the bedroom I stay in in Poughkeepsie Tona, the mother of someone I went to high school with, Marc who I went to high school with, Willie the blueberry hunter, and possibly others I am not remembering. In other words, it’s a lot like going to the local pool, only bigger and fresher.