By Charlotte Underwood
CARYVILLE, TN (WLAF) – After 72 years, Cove Lake State Park’s pool is closing for good. For many in the community, the pool was where they learned to swim or represented a first job. A favorite hangout and one of the main summer social gathering points in the county, the closing of the pool will impact the community. The state has allocated $400,000 to the park to provide replacement recreational facilities and is seeking community input at a meeting scheduled for today at 5pm at the park recreation building.
Tennessee State parks made the announcement of the Cove Lake pool closing last week. Norris Dam State Park’s pool, as well as nine others around the state will be closing as well. The state’s release cited aging facilities and a decline in attendance as reasons for the closures.
According to the state park’s website, there will be a meeting held on Tuesday, Dec. 14, at Cove Lake State Park at 5 pm for public input on what the state should invest in as an outdoor recreation option since the pool is closing. The meeting will be held at the recreational building at 153 Goose Lane in Caryville.
The 11 swimming pools that will not reopen as of Summer 2022, include Roan Mountain, Warriors’ Path, Panther Creek, Cove Lake, Booker T. Washington, Harrison Bay, David Crockett, David Crockett Birthplace, Norris Dam, Paris Landing, and Tims Ford.
According to the state release, the swimming pools at those parks were closed in 2020 and 2021 due to complications related to COVID-19 and “reopening the pools is unfeasible due to aging facilities, declining visitation pre-COVID 19, and high expenses.”
Tennessee State Parks has allocated $400,000 for each park to invest in new outdoor recreation activities. State parks officials encourage Tennesseans to voice their opinions on options for alternative, year-round outdoor recreational operations at each park.
For many in Campbell County, the pool closing marks the end of an era. For 72 years area children learned to swim and socialize at the local swimming pool.
Gary Gray said he was nine- years- old when his mother took him and his twin brother Jerry to the pool for swimming lessons. Later, when Gary attended college in Birmingham at Samford University, he came back each summer to be employed as a life guard at the pool and helped teach a number of community kids to swim as well. Gray was a life guard at the pool each summer from 1971 through 1975. He said it was a “summer dream job” and he and other local lifeguards had a great time each summer.
“In those days, the pool was the center of the county’s entertainment. It brought people together from Caryville, LaFollette and Jacksboro,” Gray said, describing summer picnics and swim excursions.
According to Gray, the local pool helped bring kids and parents together each season, even hardcore sports rivals were fast friends at the pool.
“Them guys from Jacksboro could be your arch enemy during a ballgame and then in summer those guys were your best friend at the pool. It really brought people together,” Gray said, adding that he would be sad to see the pool shutdown.
According to Sugar Freeman, who frequented the pool in its hey day as well, the pool was “the gathering place” for the county. Many a junior and high school summer was spent practicing high dives at the pool.
Freeman said she remembers her and her friends having goals to do a flip off the high diving board.
“We would wear t-shirts so if we belly flopped or landed on our backs it wouldn’t hurt as bad,” Freeman recalled. She said she was also sad to see the pool go.
“It was where my friends and I always hung out. The parents would drop us off, and that’s how we spent our summers,” Freeman said.
The announcement of the pool closing comes after two inactive seasons due to the pandemic. According to numbers, pool visitation was also down prior to the 2020-21 closure. After taking this into consideration, along with the age of the pool, state officials announced the pool would not reopen as of Summer 2022. Due to its age, Cove Lake’s pool as well as others would all require “major maintenance upgrades while usage continues to decline,” said TDEC deputy of Commissioners Jim Brysoni.
According to a statement on the park’s website, “Tennessee State Parks can no longer justify to Tennessee taxpayers the costs associated with keeping this pool in operation.However, we are excited to have the opportunity to invest in a more fiscally responsible outdoor recreation option at Cove Lake State Park that would provide year-round benefits.”
If unable to attend the public input meeting, you can visit HERE to provide input regarding future recreational options. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 12/14/2021-6AM)