BANDY CREEK — For the first time since 2019, the nation’s only National Park Service-operated swimming pool will be open on Memorial Day weekend.
Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area Superintendent Niki S. Nicholas said at a meeting of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce Tourism & Events Committee on Wednesday that the swimming pool will open for the season on Friday, May 28, which will kick off the extended holiday weekend.
Memorial Day is annually viewed as the unofficial start of summer, and that’s the weekend most public swimming pools open for the season. This year’s pool opening at Bandy Creek is especially anticipated because public pools were not open at all in 2020, due to Covid-19.
Nicholas said there will be some precautions taken. Among them: no more than 100 people will be allowed in the pool area — including sun-bathers — at any one time.
“Our lifeguards have to test the water every hour anyway, so what they’ll do is do a count when they test each hour,” Nicholas said. “If there’s more than 100 people, they’ll close the gate and say, ‘No one else in for an hour.'”
The Big South Fork’s Bandy Creek pool is the only National Park Service pool in the nation. While several national parks have swimming pools, the others are operated by private concessionaires through a contract with the federal parks management agency.
As has been the case in years past, Nicholas said the pool will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays.
That means the pool will be open four consecutive days beginning May 28. After that, it’ll be open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the summer.
The pool admission cost is unchanged this year: $3 per person. The pool is still available to rent for after-hours pool parties.
The pool opening is part of what the Big South Fork administration anticipates will be a busy holiday weekend. The park service will host its first interpretive program since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, the park’s external visitor centers at Stearns and Rugby will open that weekend. The external visitor center in Helenwood is already open; the Scott County Visitor Center is staffed by a park ranger each Saturday and Sunday.
In addition, lots of visitors to the Big South Fork are anticipated for Memorial Day weekend. As of Thursday, only three of Bandy Creek’s 181 campsites were available on Friday, May 28, and only one site was available for the entire weekend.
The campground has seen a significant uptick in reservations this year, Nicholas said.
“There have been a couple of weekends when it’s been completely full, and we aren’t even to Memorial Day,” she said.
Traditionally, Bandy Creek has been full or nearly full on holiday weekends during the summer and fall months, but otherwise sees only moderate use — and light use during the week.
But things have changed since covid. This weekend, for example, only seven sites with water and electric hookups are available for the entire weekend.
Bandy Creek switched to the reservation system in 2020, meaning campers can no longer pull up to the “guard shack” at the campground entrance and reserve a site upon arrival. Nicholas said the switch worked so well that it will be permanent.
“We just no longer have the staff to do walk-ups,” she said.
That means anyone planning to camp at Bandy Creek must make reservations online at recreation.gov. Those who arrive at Bandy Creek without reservations can visit the nearby visitor center for internet access.