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Potential Swells For More Swimming

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 7, 2024
Pool options in the Wilmington area for those who don’t own one or live in a community that has one include purchasing a day pass from ResortPass.com for the Hotel Ballast’s pool. (Photo courtesy of the Hotel Ballast)
Those looking for a pool as the days heat up this summer can try Hotel Ballast, even if they’re not staying in one of the downtown Wilmington hotel’s rooms.

For $25, day passes to the hotel’s pool are available for purchase on ResortPass.com if the hotel isn’t fully occupied by registered guests, said Karen Morganti, director of sales and marketing for the Hotel Ballast, located at 301 N. Water St. along the Cape Fear River.

But hotel pools that can be accessed on ResortPass.com – or pools at individuals’ houses that can be rented through a different online arena, Swimply.com – are few in the Wilmington area. As the population increases, demand continues to grow for pools the public can access in the city and county.

One such pool is coming to Carolina Beach. People will be able to buy memberships to the pool at The Proximity at Carolina Beach, a mixed-use development under construction at 904 N. Lake Park Blvd. in the New Hanover County beach town.

“We decided to expand our typical pool and fitness amenity package through feedback from the community,” wrote Brian Eckel, of Cape Fear Development, the company developing The Proximity at Carolina Beach, in a recent email.

Cape Fear Development’s Mike Brown and Eckel hosted nearly 30 neighborhood meetings with hundreds of Carolina Beach residents before finalizing The Proximity’s design.

“A common theme from the feedback was that an upscale pool and fitness (open to the public) would be very desirable. We deliver high-quality amenity packages including pool and fitness in all of our communities, but we saw an opportunity to oversize our typical delivery and increased the square footage of the resort-style swimming pool and our fitness space,” Eckel said. “Our residents will have automatic memberships to both the pool and fitness.”

Cape Fear Development will release pool membership details closer to The Proximity at Carolina Beach’s 2025 opening.
The Carolina Beach pool adds to the area’s inventory of public facilities. The county has one pool, at Echo Farms Park in Wilmington, and a splash pad at Long Leaf Park, 314 Pine Grove Drive in Wilmington.

The city of Wilmington has three pools and has no plans to expand its aquatic offerings, said Amy Beatty, Wilmington’s parks and recreation director.

The YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina has two pools at its Nir Family YMCA branch on Market Street in Wilmington, and the YWCA Lower Cape Fear has one. These three are year-round pools, which are in even higher demand.

While some efforts are underway by residents to add public pool facilities, local YMCA officials have been open to the possibility of new pools at the Y’s existing and upcoming campuses.

The vision for the Midtown YMCA off South 17th Street in Wilmington includes a 25-yard, eight-lane indoor pool, said Dick Jones, CEO of the YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina.

He feels two to three more public swimming pools would help meet recreational and sports needs in Wilmington, but “there would still be times when it would be hard to find a public place to swim.”

Jones said the COVID-19 pandemic made swimming at public pools more difficult “because we had to have so much separation. We were limiting pool lanes to one or two people per lane. And so that sort of got folks to appreciate the idea of swimming in a lane with one or two other people instead of four or five people.”

Pools are expensive to create and operate, he said. A 25-yard pool can cost at least $2 million to $2.5 million to build, according to Jones.

In addition to a potential pool at the existing Midtown Y, officials at the YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina are looking to include a pool at a proposed campus in northern New Hanover County, Jones said.

“We’re always looking at our other campuses – do we need to think about adding something there,” Jones said.
An aquatics task force hosted by the YMCA wrapped up earlier this year, and one of the task force’s recommendations was to work with the city of Wilmington on the possibility of covering its Legion Stadium and Robert Strange pools, Jones said.

Other outlets for public swimming include some of the area’s waterways.

“I think there’s technically a ton of places to swim; it’s just more based on level of comfort and skill,” said Kristen Smith, organizer of the Wrightsville Beach race Swim the Loop, which is set to take place in October.

Swim the Loop starts and ends at Dockside Restaurant, 1308 Airlie Road, and involves multiple area waters, including Banks Channel and the Intracoastal Waterway.

“The race will start at a high tide to ensure an even but challenging tide pattern throughout the 3.5-mile swim,” according to the race’s website. “Don’t be fooled though; there will be times of incoming tide, falling tide and some slack tide.”

Swimming in the ICW and other natural settings can be more complicated than pool swimming. One example: Smith said she’s cognizant of runoff.

“If it’s rained a lot, I’m probably not going to swim because everything’s just washed off the road into the water,” she said.
For ocean or other waterway swimming, other factors include wind and wildlife.

“You need to be aware that these things are occurring and be comfortable with it,” Smith said. “People think that it’s a pool, and it’s not.”
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