A group of Trent community members have a month to come up with a plan to save the Trent Pool from auction in an attempt to preserve community history and something for young people to do.
About 45 residents of the town and surrounding area met May 26 at the local picnic shelter to hash over what could be done about a planned June 8th sale of the land and community’s spring-fed swimming pool. An auction sale bill for the gravel-bottomed body of water that has been used as a pool since 1952 became public a few days earlier on May 22, and a discussion to save it started on Facebook. At this point the auction has been postponed.
“A lot of things can be done, and this pool can get back to being not just a pool but a community area that everybody can use,” said Julie Wood, an organizer of the effort to keep the pool for the community. At the same time, she knows there’s a possibility that it won’t work out. “I just don’t think it should be sold without community input.”
Wood is one of five people who have agreed to meet with the 12 members of the Trent Community Association board after the community meeting. The board agreed to give interested community members 30 days to come up with a plan.
The two groups will meet June 26, and at that time, the original board has agreed to resign, effective July 1.
In the meantime, the pool has been drained for safety reasons. Members of the Trent Community Association, which owns the pool, decided to drain it because it was the only way to get liability coverage for the property, they said. They were unable to get a company to write a policy for the pool to be used because it’s not clear water so lifeguards can see the bottom.
“That’s the only way we could get liability was if it was drained,” said Keith Bietz, board president. “The day we opened it to drain it, we all went down there, and I don’t think there was a dry eye there.
“It’s not like we want to do this,” Bietz told members of the public at the community meeting.
The swimming hole holds memories and evokes emotions for generations of Trent and area residents.
The property, which was donated to the community of Trent by the now-deceased Alice Nelson, is run by the non-profit organization’s 12-member board of directors, with paperwork filed at the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office.
Board members attended the community meeting but left part way through, after the discussion became more pointed toward questioning their actions. The board then met privately and decided to postpone the sale a month to allow the group of interested citizens time to put together a new board and see what they can do to save the pool.
Board members had been under the impression that the town was paying liability insurance on the pool for years. But last September, the city said it has never covered liability insurance. Town board president Jonathan Damm reiterated that to community members at the meeting. Instead, the city has provided worker’s compensation insurance for lifeguards because the city had paid at least part of the pool staff’s wages over the years.
For a couple of the previous years, the city paid about $8,000 for the summer guards, and this year the amount was going to be $4,000, which would not have been enough, board members said. The community association board decided not to open the pool this season, initially because of the threat of coronavirus.
Because any insurance the group looked at was cost prohibitive for the pool, the board said without it, they were advised by legal counsel to sell the property so they wouldn’t individually be liable if there was a problem.
As a non-profit, the association pays no taxes, according to records with the Moody County director of equalization office.
Dean Hammer, the Dell Rapids lawyer representing the association, said there is no restrictive language that he has seen on the deed for the property from Nelson to the community that would indicate what should happen if the community no longer wants it. If the property is no longer going to be used as a public pool, there still is some liability, he said
“I did not see anything in the deed that prohibits it from being sold,” he said.
The association has been approached by a couple of parties interested in buying the property, Bietz said. As a result, the group thought that an auction would be a fair way to sell the property and hired Sutton Auctions to prepare for the sale.
The board had intended to take money earned from the sale and whatever amount is left in their account and use it to buy a park for the children of Trent, board members said. The money would provide something for kids in the town to do, they say.
Over the years, the association has earned money to operate the pool through community fundraisers, especially the annual Beach Bash. The pool has charged $2 for daily admission and hasn’t sold a season pass in the last two years, said Jami Alberts, who has been on the board for 20 years. Times have changed, and losing the city’s help makes a big difference, she said.
“The money is not coming in. The support isn’t always there. Things cost more,” she said. Alberts spends most of her summer working at the pool as a volunteer. She had hoped her grandchildren would be able to swim there.
“This wasn’t an easy decision to do,” she said.
Stacy Franken, who attended the community meeting, said it’s possible the association doesn’t need liability coverage because none of the board members are paid and all are considered volunteers. She asked for the chance to look into other options.
“Once it’s auctioned, it’s gone,” she said. “We’re asking for some time. If guys feel liable, wash your hands and resign.”
Several community members at the meeting said in order to keep the pool, they would be willing to help with fundraisers and other work the association needs to do. Terry Javers with Steve’s Bar said the business also would be willing to donate.
The Trent Pool has a regional draw and has a rich history of decades of recreation for locals.
“Trent is known for its swimming hole. What town has a swimming hole? When you tell people about it, they can hardly believe it,” Wood said.
The community association ran the pool over the years, with a few years here and there when the facility wasn’t open. There also were times when the non-profit didn’t file the required annual reports and lost its status, which was restored each time paperwork was sent to the Secretary of State.
During those nearly 70 years, the people of the community have owned the pool, said Morris Kirkegaard, who has been on the board and owns the adjacent campgrounds. The board should have had a community meeting before deciding on an auction, he said. “I guess it took a lot of people by surprise, the sale bill,” he said.
He said one option to help make the pool more financially secure would be to add some camping spots on the property, he said. The important thing is the community look at keeping the property because when it is sold, it’s gone. That would be a loss of recreation and in some cases, almost a rite of passage for young people who have swam there during open hours and have snuck in afterhours to skinny dip.
“I almost drowned up there trying to find my underpants,” Kirkegaard said.
Ashley Sutton, who volunteers on the board, grew up swimming with her best friend, Ashley Johnson, who also is on the board. The girls swam every afternoon and when they were old enough, became lifeguards.
Johnson, who has three young children, and Sutton, who is expecting her first baby, hoped their children could swim at the local pool, too.
“My parents bought me a season pass every year. From what I remember it was always pretty busy there,” said Sutton, 26. “It was just kind of a fun place to be. There were a lot of kids in the community going there.”
Sutton remembers eating lunch and heading off to the pool. “We were pool rats.”
After three years of lifeguarding, she became the pool manager.
Times change, and now there’s only a slim possibility that the pool will continue to entertain local children, Sutton said.
“It just doesn’t seem that that will be feasible to continue on the way it is.”