It is a hot summer day, and dozens of young people and families with children are enjoying swimming and wading in the two coves of Crystal Lake in Newton Center. All this is taking place in areas with large, clearly posted “No Swimming” signs, and warnings that swimmers can be arrested for trespassing. What exactly is going on? In a recent issue of the Newton Tab, I address this topic.
For decades, Newton residents have enjoyed safe swimming in the lifeguard-supervised area of Crystal Lake. But over the last six years, adults and children have increasingly been swimming illegally in the nearby coves. The advantages of swimming in these areas are obvious: they are quiet, with a relative lack of crowds, they are available when the official swimming area is closed, there are no restrictions on food and drinks, and there's no need to pay for a permit.
In 2012, some Newton residents petitioned the city to allow swimming at your own risk in the coves; similar policies are in place at Walden Pond State Park in Concord. But the Newton government was unwilling to allow cove swimming and it remains illegal. Enforcement by police, however, is weak or nonexistent.
What are the main arguments against allowing swimming in the coves? First, swimming in the coves violates posted regulations, so it might contribute to disrespect for the law. Second, there are no lifeguards, and the city might be liable for injuries and drowning. And third, noise and parked cars disturb some local residents.
Thus far, the city and residents have been unable to develop a consensus solution to deal with cove swimming. Such a consensus would include policies that enhance swimming opportunities, swimming safety, residents’ rights, and the lake’s health. This is easier said than done, but it provides a goal to work toward. If Thoreau were around today, what would be his advice? Transgress unreasonable laws? Or head into the woods and avoid the crowds?