The Swimming Pool at Watoga — The Day It Snowed!

A Continuing Series

Ahh, Memorial Day weekend is here! And, while growing up at Watoga State Park, the swimming pool is the place to be!

Watoga Sate Park. Nestled in the background is Cabin 20. | 📸: @john.c.dean
Side view of the swimming pool at Watoga Sate Park. Nestled in the background is Cabin 20. | 📸: @john.c.dean

This is the last year for the pool (a new one is in the works), but not the last year for memories about this legendary swimming spot. In particular, many readers, visitors and park guests have relayed stories of how cold that water was. This is mine.

Recently, I spoke with my cousin, Debra Dean Murphy, to ask how she remembers the pool. As a matter of fact, Deb was a lifeguard at the pool from 1979-1984. Likewise, I was a lifeguard from 1977-1979. It’s a long-standing Dean tradition to always get in the pool on this holiday weekend no matter the weather.

“The water in the Watoga pool was so cold it would literally take your breath away and make your lips turn blue,” Deb said. “But it was the pool and we loved it and we couldn’t imagine not swimming and diving and playing games in it. There were also those rare occasions when, during or after a rain, the water would feel surprisingly warm.”

Furthermore, Coach Tom Sanders: lifeguard at Watoga (1973-1975) recalls: “I think the water was from a spring. It was really cold, cold water. When the air temperature was cold, swimmers could not stay in the pool awfully long after taking a swim. The pool was always known to be cooler than the nearby swimming holes in the local rivers.”

A Frosty Morning at the Pool

So, on that memorable Memorial Day weekend, here’s what happens next:

Date: Sunday, May 28, 1972

Morning temperature: 30 degrees. Afternoon high: 76 degrees. Weather data courtesy of the National Centers for Environmental Information – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Brrr, to say the least, right?

As can be seen from that subfreezing temp, this opening day weekend is not what you would call ideal swimming conditions (not that any weekend until mid-August at the pool ever is).

However, in the 1970s, solar power meant the actual sun. On hot days, the cluster of pine trees above the pool would provide welcome shade, but on this frosty morning, they keep any glimpse of the sun away. Moreover, even on a warm summer day, the water is chilly. In reality, the water is freezing cold!

The Swimming Pool Bone-Chilling Plunge

You may be wondering if anyone went swimming that day, right?

At 10 a.m.? Absolutely not!

The lifeguards have on jeans, sweat shirts, winter headgear and coats. Undeniably, it is so cold that you can see your breath. I have on my swimming trunks under my jeans. Deb is bundled inside a heavy blanket covering her black Speedo suit. In particular, no other brave souls have ventured to the pool. Meanwhile, we gather inside the bathhouse, near the front entrance, hoping for a sudden tropical warmup.

All of a sudden it begins snowing. It’s like a whiteout – gusty, swirling winds with arctic blasts bringing a steady stream of snowflakes onto the crystal-clear waters of the swimming pool.

However, Deb and I are not going to let a little snow halt a family ritual at the swimming pool. The lifeguards look on in astonishment as Deb and I jump into deep end of the pool, even though it is only for about 30 seconds.

Quickly swimming to the edge faster than an Olympic freestyle gold medalist, Deb and I get out before we are frozen in time. We are shaking and shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering loudly. We hurriedly grab our nearby towels as hot showers await us.

That is my bone-chilling snow day at the pool. What is yours? Please email your pool memories to jcamerondean@gmail.com. Near Labor Day, I will be publishing a blog(s) to commemorate readers’ memories at the swimming pool.

Roadside perspective of the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool before trees were thinned to allow more sunlight. | Watoga Sate Park. | 📸: @john.c.dean
Roadside perspective of the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool before trees were thinned to allow more sunlight. | Watoga Sate Park. | 📸: @john.c.dean

About the Author

John C. Dean lived at Watoga for 16 years from 1960-1976, until his dad, Vernon C., retired after 43 years of service with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.