40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#34: Riverbank State Park Outdoor Pool

on July 7, 2012

Andrew, Janet, John, me, and John in our Fourth of July pool party attire.

Location: West Harlem, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $3 during lap-swim hours, $2 otherwise

Fees to Date: $166.74

Riverbank’s outdoor pool opened in stealth mode last week. Signs promised its availability for the Fourth, but in fact it opened almost a week earlier, unicorn-like, as described by Andrew: “I didn’t question its existence since it was there in front of me, but can’t explain it and don’t expect to see it again.”

A little less predictable and a whole lot smaller than the indoor pool, it’s a good option on weekends and holidays when the city-run outdoor pools don’t have lap swimming. As far as I can tell, its lap-swim session usually begins a little after the adjacent indoor pool opens (6:30 a.m.) and continues until 8:30, after which there is no more lap swimming until the next morning. It lasts until Labor Day.

We found ourselves there bright and early on the Fourth of July begging the indoor-pool lifeguards to open it despite the light mist falling from the sky. The finally acquiesced with about a half-hour left during the lap session, so for the second day in a row I swore off all indoor swimming. We did some very low-key swimming outdoors after our almost-as-low-key swimming indoors.

Most of these people in this little pool party should be familiar to readers of this blog by now, but Andrew is making his first appearance. We met through his training for the recent Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, and he has temporarily relocated to my neighborhood, so I expect to see a lot of him at my local outdoor pool (blog report coming soon!).

The pool’s best feature is the view from its eponymous riverbank, across the Hudson to the Palisades. Since it’s perpendicular to the shore, you get to admire the view when you’re not swimming, which suited our purposes well. The water warms up quickly on warm days due to the shallow depth–just 3′ 9″–and it may or may not be cleaner than the indoor pool. I’m not crazy about the metal walls, which are slippery to push off. One thing it had going for it on the Fourth was a lower mosquito count than indoors.

In my earlier posts about Riverbank, I didn’t get into the park’s raison d’etre. No, it is not there so I can have a cheap place to swim. Rather, it was provided as a bone to the community in exchange for what it rests upon: the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant. That plant has probably done more for swimming in New York City than the pools, since it prevents a whole lot of untreated sewage from getting discharged into the Hudson, which has resulted in the water quality improving to cleanliness levels not seen in 110 years. However, it also blocks waterfront access and sometimes produces a mighty wind.

You’d think that this agreement would guarantee the park’s availability as long as the plant is still there, but unfortunately it’s funded from the same skimpy pot as other New York State parks, so cutbacks and closures are periodically threatened. Last time around, Save Riverbank mobilized to protect the park, and it’s since become a good resource for park info and swag.

Last summer, a bad fire in the plant shut down the indoor and outdoor pools during a scorching heat wave and brought things temporarily back to the way they used to be, with sewage going straight into the river. Yuck. Fortunately, the DEP made an incredible effort to get the plant back online quickly, and the effects cleared up within about a week.

Anyway, when the smell of you-know-what occasionally wafts over the roadway on the way in to Riverbank, I try to be grateful for it in lieu of the alternative–not treating the stuff. I’d take pools plus a cleaner river over neither of those things in my neighborhood any day, if only I were so lucky.

After swimming, we went to the nearby Las Americas bakery, it being an American holiday and all. The coffee received vary favorable reports, and we enjoyed various corn, cheese, and red velvet baked treats before moving on to the day’s next activities.

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