The sun is out, the air is hot and school is out for nearly another month, but Pomps Pond is a ghost town the day after it closed for the season.
Every year, the pond opens in mid June - June 16, this year - and closes around two months later as a majority of its lifeguard staff heads back to college in the fall. With around a month left in summer vacation for teenagers and younger children, residents are often left disappointed about the pond closing so early.
“It’s a bummer that it’s closed,” said 17-year-old Stephanie Petrella, sitting at the beach with three of her friends. “I wish it could be open. It’s a good time, it is local.”
Out for an afternoon stroll, Carisbrooke Street resident Tom Spang agreed, but said he understands why it’s closed. Though he thinks it should be open, he says, “I have no complaints.”
The reason why it closes is because a majority of its staff are college students. As lifeguards, most of them are athletes who typically return to college before other students, according to Kim Stamas, recreation coordinator with the Department of Community Services.
“Obviously, if they’re swimmers, they’re athletes, and anybody playing a varsity sport is gone,” said Stamas. “We lose everybody. We lose our councilors. We lose everything.”
There are a number of alternatives that the town could consider, and Stamas said town workers have already considered all their options.
One is using high school students. Tahera Doctor, 17, said she knows a number of students who are high school-aged and working as life guards at beaches, country clubs and other places with pools.
But the town remains concerned about safety issues because of the abduction and murder of a Massachusetts teen 12 years ago.
In 2000, 16-year-old Molly Bish was abducted wh
ile working as a lifeguard in Warren, her home town. Her remains were found three years later, and no charges have been filed in the 12 years since she was last seen alive. It is believed she was abducted within eight minutes of her shift starting, right after her mother dropped her off.
“We would never leave high school students there without an adult around,” said Stamas. “Where [Molly] was abducted is the same as Pomps Pond.”
Another alternative to keeping the pond open for the final weeks of summer is to have adult lifeguards and councilors watch over the beach, but the town cannot find people willing t
o fill the duty, said Stamas.
“Every parent suggests that same suggestion. I throw it back at them and say, ‘Do you want to lifeguard at Pomps Pond?’” said Stamas. “It’s not possible. We don’t have the people to do it.”
Spang said he was surprised by that, and he felt the town could do more to reach out to adults in the community.
“You’d think they could find somebody who would be willing to work for minimum wage these days and staff the place,” said Spang.
Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski also said that recruiting adults for the work can be difficult.
“We have a whole training program for the young people who work there,” he said. “In my mind, I think it would be nice to keep it open until Labor Day. I know that private pools that stay open until Labor Day have a lot of difficulty doing it.”
Another problem that often complicates staying open during the summer is water quality. As the pond water heats up and nature takes its course, most ponds fill with algae and bacteria that can make swimming conditions less than favorable.
This year, however, Andover seemed to be spared from the threat of its pond becoming a multi-acre microbial habitat. However, North Andover had to shut down its ponds early, citing health concerns.
“We’re probably one of the only ponds that remained open during the summer,” said Stamas. “We were just lucky. I don’t know wh
y we didn’t get it.”
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