Monday night kayak pool practice sessions at Hamme Pool have been enjoyed by Fairbanks paddlers from January through May every year since at least the early 1980′s. Kayak polo games have followed practice sessions for a number of years. This has been a tremendous resource to the community, not only as a healthy winter recreational opportunity but, more importantly, for developing boating safety skills.
This year, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation department, without considering input from the paddling community, decided to cut the number of kayak sessions by about 40%. Paddlers have counted on Monday night kayak sessions starting the first or second week of January. This year, the kayak sessions will run from March 18 until May 20. Borough aquatics manager Michelle Leonard said paddlers’ time was cut because of low attendance in January and February. This Fairbanks Daily News Miner article describes the cut in kayak pool sessions.
Many local paddlers take advantage of pool sessions to develop paddling and self-rescue skills in a safe, warm environment. With Interior rivers frozen from mid-October through mid-May, these skills are extremely important to boaters who venture onto icy, high water river runs that always occur after break-up. Paddlers also use the practice session to tune up their skills before traveling to paddle in other areas that have a longer paddling seasons. Both of my two sons learned to paddle and perform eskimo rolls in Hamme Pool before they paddled on frigid Alaskan waters. Both are now very competent Class V paddlers on challenging Alaska rivers. They were able to develop many of their river safety skills under mentorship and coaching of other local paddlers because of the availability of pool practice sessions and kayak polo games.
If the borough’s decision to cut the paddling sessions nearly in half was based only on last winter’s pool attendance data, I doubt that they considered that this was the coldest winter on record since 1971. In fact, it was the 5th coldest on record, with average daily temperatures of 27 below ( only 1971, 1966, 1934, and 1906 were colder).
Even on extreme cold nights, low attendance nights always have a core group of half a dozen or more paddlers. On many nights, more than 25 boats and paddlers take advantage of this opportunity, and kayak polo sessions regularly have 12 to 18 competitors.
With the number of people who take to the waters in interior Alaska in canoes or kayaks, paddlers can hardly be considered any more of a special interest group than swimmers. Mary Siah pool, less than 1/4 mile away, is also open for swimming on Monday nights, so kayak pool sessions do not prevent families from having an opportunity to swim.
The club encourages members of Fairbanks Paddlers and the Alaskan boating community to contact the borough Parks and Recreation department and request that the availability of Hamme Pool to develop paddling and safety skills on Monday nights from January through May will be restored in future years. Kayakers and canoeists, please show your support and enthusiasm for keeping this resource available by showing up en masse when the first pool session starts in March.