CAMAS — As temperatures crept toward 90 degrees on a recent weekday, swarms of people packed Camas’ top spots to recreate and cool off, with one exception:
The Crown Park pool, a fixture in the city for 64 years, sat empty.
In January, city councilors voted against opening the aging pool this year. Just bringing the pool up to the point where it would meet health and safety codes would cost somewhere in the range of $481,000 to $710,000, according to City Administrator Pete Capell. Estimates for a complete renovation of the pool were in the range of $1.69 million to $2.19 million, almost enough to build an entirely new pool. So rather than fix the county’s only outdoor public pool, councilors are considering its demolition.
Meanwhile the heat is on and the crowds have arrived.
Without the Crown Park pool, where are all these people chilling?
Walking on water
Lacamas Lake and Round Lake are both summer destinations in Camas. Randy Curtis, chairman of the city’s parks and recreation commission, said those spots are popular with kayakers and paddleboarders.
“We’re clearly getting a lot of folks using the lakes, particularly with the nonmotorized kind of boats,” he said. “You can almost walk across the lakes with the amount of paddleboards and kayaks in there.”
Lydia Carroll, co-owner of Sweetwater SUP Rentals, wasn’t sure if larger crowds in the lakes could be attributed to the Crown Park pool closure. The paddleboard and kayak rental company is in its fifth season, and its fourth as the water concessionaire at Lacamas Lake. She said business has picked up a bit this year.
“It has been growing over the last several years,” she said. “It’s hard to say whether it’s because of Crown Park pool or the sport growing.”
Over at Round Lake, a new pedestrian bridge next to Northeast Everett Street has become a hot spot for those not afraid of heights. On a hot day, the bridge is packed with kids taking turns jumping, diving and flipping into the lake below. Kayakers can also get to or from Lacamas Lake by kayaking the connecting channel underneath Everett, which provides for some close calls with bridge divers.
Dylan Cherry, 19, of Washougal was hanging at Round Lake recently watching some kids jump off the bridge. Cherry was a lifeguard for three years at the Crown Park pool, and said he would have done it again if it was open. Without the pool, he said a lot of his friends are babysitting this summer for work. The Western Washington University student said it’s sad the pool is closed this year, as it was a place for kids and families to spend their summer. Cherry said along with the lakes, people have been spending time at Dougan Falls, along the Washougal River, and at Cottonwood Beach in Washougal, which is “always busy.”
Miriam Brown and Erin Ebeling, both of Washougal, snagged a premium semi-shaded spot on Cottonwood Beach during a recent visit with their families.
“With one less option, you do look for more places,” Brown said. “It’s sad the pool is closed. It was iconic.”
The two spoke about some other spots they’ve been to or heard people going to, like the Washougal River swimming hole near the former Riverside Bowl site. Ebeling said her husband, Chris Ebeling, grew up going to the pool in Camas and they wanted to bring their 4-year-old son, Reed, there for swimming lessons at some point.
“We were waiting for him to get older so he would enjoy it,” Ebeling said. “Now I guess we won’t get to.”
Brown said between the pool and the paper mill, it’s been a tough year to see historic parts of Camas closing. (Georgia-Pacific still operates part of the mill, but several operations were curtailed and many employees were laid off.) She joked that Top Burger Drive In better not be next.
“There’d be riots if Top Burger closed,” Ebeling said.
Many around Camas have spent the last few months trying to rally to save the pool. Curtis said parks commission meetings have been packed whenever the topic is on the agenda, and a group in May held a “pool party without the pool” to try to save it. Curtis said most of the people who speak up at meetings, or he sees out demonstrating, are parents with young kids.
“Younger families with kids who need supervision, those were the people who really used the pool,” he said.
Once the city announced Crown Park wasn’t going to open this year, the owners of Lacamas Athletic Club put out the word that they would expand swim lessons at their indoor pool. The club added morning swim lessons, since that’s when Crown Park pool offered them, and extended some public swim times to help fill the void. Swim lesson enrollments are up 15 percent this summer, according to Nathan Murphy, general manager.
“We did it as soon as we heard Crown Park wasn’t opening,” Murphy said. “We staffed an additional eight to 10 swim instructors.”
Karen Krohling, assistant pool manager at Vancouver’s Marshall Community Center, said she hasn’t run attendance numbers yet this summer, so she can’t say if the Marshall pool, which is indoors, has been busier. The only notable difference this summer is the Marshall Center had a lot more lifeguards apply for jobs there with no Crown Park pool.
In recent weeks, the owners of Lacamas Athletic Club have contacted and met with the city about potentially buying the Crown Park pool, renovating it and reopening it. Both Murphy and Capell said there have been preliminary discussions, but no formal offer. Capell said the city wouldn’t sell land in Crown Park, and discussions have focused more on a lease, where the athletic club would renovate the pool and take over its operations.
Murphy said the idea would be to renovate the pool area and make it a second location for the athletic club.
“It would be an extension of what we currently offer,” he said. “We’re looking to expand. We have an aggressive growth plan for the next five to 10 years.”
Lacamas, which has seen continuous membership growth throughout the last two years, is looking to add a few more locations, each one with a family-style pool with a waterslide and splash features and a group fitness studio next to the pool. Murphy said they are looking to add two or three more locations, one closer to north county, one toward Washougal and one toward Vancouver.
The Lacamas plan calls for a covered pool at Crown Park that can be used year-round, like the pool at the athletic club. It would have a retractable roof to open when weather permits.
Lacamas operated Crown Park’s pool in 2014, and made money that summer, something the city hasn’t done recently.
“We know we can still do it,” Murphy said. “We would like to do it.”
According to data provided by the city, Camas lost $62,829 operating the Crown Park pool in 2017. The pool has resulted in a loss for the city at least the last seven years, including 2014 when Lacamas operated the pool and the city lost $7,269. The city lost $56,003 in 2016, $109,994 in 2015, $27,404 in 2013, $48,297 in 2012 and $35,809 in 2011.
Crown Park charged $4 for general admission, $32 for a pack of 10 general passes, $80 for a pack of 25 general passes, $30 for a private single swim lesson and $270 for a pack of 10 private swim lessons.
The athletic club charges $4.50 plus tax for a kids day pass for public swimming and $5.50 plus tax for an adult day pass for public swimming. Group swim lessons cost $75 plus tax, with a 25 percent discount for members. The club has a variety of membership offers for single patrons and families depending on the size of family and whether the interested party is signing up month-to-month or with a commitment. Lacamas also offers private swim lessons that range from $52 for members and $65 for nonmembers for a private half-hour lesson to deals for semi-private lessons.
Future of Crown Park
Demolishing the pool, which was originally planned for this summer and then moved back to the fall, is on hold, Capell said. First, city officials need to figure out if they want to pursue the idea of bringing a community center to the region. Camas officials have started discussing the option of teaming up with the city of Washougal and Port of Camas-Washougal to build a community center for east county with an aquatic center. The three agencies, along with representatives from both school districts, have formed a committee to look into that option. Capell said the committee is trying to schedule more meetings, but it might have to wait until school is back in session, since people are spread out during the summer.
He added that if the city does go with the Lacamas option, he’d love to see the renovations happen quickly enough so the pool can open in 2019, but a lot needs to happen within the next few months for that to be possible.
The city is also considering a few other options. One plan calls for demolishing the pool and putting in a splash pad or some other kind of water feature, while renovating other parts of the park, bringing in restrooms, an amphitheater and a sports court. That option would most likely be paired with the community center, so as to have a pool in or close to Camas.
“If we don’t have a pool in Crown Park, we believe that some sort of water feature would be beneficial,” Capell said. “It’s very much a priority of council that we do have some form of swimming in Camas, or at least in the Camas area. We have water bodies all around us. It’s important for kids to get swim lessons.”
Curtis said in meetings and open houses, the splash pad has not received a lot of positive response from the community. He said he and others have been working on the pool issue, and trying to get a community center to the area for years, but haven’t had much success. While it’s a disappointment the pool isn’t open, Curtis said the closure of the pool has led to more discussion on the topic than ever before.
“It’s been contentious at times. Overall, it is inspiring,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the process. It’s led to a greater optimism on my part. We have more people in our greater community — schools, port, cities — talking about what we can accomplish in a few years.”