Pool-goers beating the heat at Hillcrest Aquatic Center in Brookings

Hillcrest Aquatic Center is already buzzing with activity in its first week of the 2023 summer swimming season. The center is open to the public seven days a week from 1 to 7 p.m. (Mondell Keck/Brookings Register)

BROOKINGS — Mother Nature has presented the perfect recipe for the Hillcrest Aquatic Center: Hot and somewhat sticky weather that’s enough to make a person wonder if summer has kidnapped spring and squirreled it away somewhere.

“It’s been pretty busy — the weather has been cooperating. We had a little storm come through the other day but for the most part we’ve had some nice weather here,” Carrie Smith, one of the managers at Hillcrest, said. “It’s hot. It’s dry. We need the rain, but it’s good for business at the pool.” 

The aquatic center, which opened earlier this week, has certainly seen an immediate influx of users — an influx that is only likely to get stronger as June progresses into July and August. 

“(I’m) not sure what capacity we’ve been at (or) the volume of people coming through, but it’s been busy and we’ve been doing a lot of training with new staff, so we’re getting involved in all of that as well,” Smith said.

Speaking of staffing, including lifeguards, Smith noted that it’s coming along.

“We’re OK for now, but it seems like every season (Recreation Superintendent Stacy Claussen) will send me a text and say, ‘Hey, if you know of any kids that are interested in lifeguarding …,’” Smith said. “It’s a nationwide shortage because — I was watching the news the other day and there is a lifeguard shortage around the nation. … The kids have to really want to love it to be outside.”

Smith, who is a special education teacher with the Brookings School District, added that a lot of effort is put into working with the aquatic center’s staffers.

“We really try to work with the kids’ schedules because we’ve got a lot of kids involved in sports and weightlifting and band camp and we really try hard to work around their schedules,” Smith noted. “We do get some quality lifeguards here, so that’s great.”

Oh, and if you’re worried about the leisure pool portion of the aquatic center, don’t be. Last year’s water issues have been solved, much to everyone’s relief.

“It is fixed. Finally!” Smith said. “It was a long haul last summer. They looked and looked for that leak and did some digging and things. … The leak is all fixed and the leisure pool should be good to go for the summer.” 

When asked about her hopes and expectations for this swimming season at Hillcrest, Smith offered several cool reasons to spend time at the aquatic center. 

“We just want it to be a place where kids can come and have fun and feel safe and make it a family friendly environment,” she said. “They can spend the day here and they can have some snacks from the concession stand — really make it a nice experience for a family to come.” 

Smith continued, “It’s something for these kids to do that are too young to get a job yet so they’re kind of in-between — someplace where they can come and hang out and be with their friends. We host a lot of pool parties, too, like during the nights, so that’s great.

“We’ve got church groups that rent the pool, we’ve got sports teams and so we staff our lifeguards at night, too, with those. It’s a nice opportunity for people to take advantage of as well,” Smith said. 

Last, but certainly not least, be nice when soaking up the fun at the Hillcrest Aquatic Center — after all, we were all young once and finding our way.

“It takes a lot to run a pool. Sometimes it’s easy to be a critic and say, ‘Oh this isn’t being run right or they need to do this better or that,’” Smith said. “All the kids here that are working are trying their best and doing their best. We want to make it a fun, safe environment for everyone.

“If anybody ever has an issue or anything, I’d like them to address it to the manager and not jump on our lifeguards because they’re still kids, too, trying to figure out their way,” she said. “… Keep the lines of communication open, have a great season (and) just make people aware of the hard work that the kids do put in here.”

— Contact Mondell Keck at [email protected]