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Where have all One Mile’s lifeguards gone?

A lifeguard post at Sycamore Pool sits empty in Chico, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.
Ken Devol
A lifeguard post at Sycamore Pool sits empty in Chico, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.

We’re in the dog days of summer, a time when people naturally look to community pools as a place to relax and take a cooling dip.

Sycamore Pool in Lower Bidwell Park is a popular destination for Chico residents, but there’s a problem the lifeguard chairs are empty.

Anjie Goulding, recreation director at Chico Area Recreation and Park District (CARD), said the reason is simple and frustrating. Despite an exhaustive recruiting attempt, there weren’t enough applicants to cover the district’s need this year.

“We did a wall-to-wall effort since early February where we were advertising positions all over,” Goulding said. “PV High, Chico High, Inspire, Butte CORE, a lot of Chico State and Butte College departments, Alliance for Workforce, job fairs and community events, as well as working with our local swim teams.”

CARD has been able to staff the small Pleasant Valley Pool next to Bidwell Junior High this summer, but the huge Sycamore Pool that sees hundreds of swimmers on weekends is unguarded.

Goulding points to the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic as one likely reason for the lifeguard shortage, but Chico isn’t the only community having recruiting problems.

According to the American Lifeguard Association, as many as half of the country’s more than 300,000 public pools will need to close or reduce hours this summer because they can’t put seats in those tall white chairs.

Ken came to NSPR through the back door as a volunteer, doing all the things that volunteers do. Almost nothing – nothing -- in his previous work experience suggests that he would ever be on public radio.