No swimming allowed?

Published 9:08 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LAKE MITCHELL — People who go to Higgins Ferry Park to swim may have to find another swimming hole soon, pending a decision of the Chilton County Commission.

Park Ranger Frank Atkinson said the state wants to relocate the swimming area, currently located north of the boat launch, to the south side near the pavilion. This would allow for expansions to help ease overcrowding.

The only other alternative is to do away with the swimming area altogether, which Atkinson said is the best idea.

“Too many people swim in the paths of boats,” Atkinson told the commission Monday. “It’s just dangerous because 20 or 30 years ago, we didn’t have the amount of boat traffic that we have now.”

With between 30 and 50 people swimming on any given Saturday or Sunday, there are also liability issues. For one, the park doesn’t have a lifeguard. Also, most people are not convinced that moving the swimming area would increase safety for swimmers.

“The state has reminded us that swimmers produce no revenue,” Atkinson added.

If the commission votes to keep swimming legal at Higgins Ferry, the existing pier adjacent to the John Trobaugh Pavilion will likely be torn down to create a new swimming area. If swimming is prohibited, however, the pier will remain.

Either way, Alabama Power, which leases the property to the state, plans to build a new pier in the current swimming area for use by the boaters.

“For safety reasons alone, I recommend closing it,” Atkinson told the commission.

There are other reasons Atkinson doesn’t think the proposed swimming area would work well. It would be about half the size of the current area and would be close to the pavilion where weddings and other events are often held.

“If you move the pier, it creates a problem for River Church,” Commissioner Red Turnipseed said.

Boaters attending Clanton First United Methodist’s River Church services tie their boats to the pier during the services, which are held each year during the warmer months.

Also, Atkinson doesn’t think the demand for swimming at the park is enough to warrant keeping the lake open to swimmers.

“We have very few people who come down there to swim that are campers,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Headley is in favor of keeping the swimming area open.

“There are lower income folks that can’t afford to go anywhere else,” he said.

The commission voted to examine the issue before making a decision.