Two days ago it was over 100 degrees here in good ‘ol Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes and plenty of beaches that are either skunky or private. Until I started trying to find a lake to swim in, I never noticed how many of our 10,000+ lakes are really only for fishing – lots of them are surrounded by reeds or weeds that would devour any brave swimmer who attempted to reach the open water.

My three kids and I loaded up the car in search of a better beach experience than our most recent at the horrible, smelly, dead-fish infested beach on White Bear Lake which, as it turned out, had a sign posted saying “No Swimming” because of the low water levels and drop offs. As if I would have wanted to hopscotch over the fish corpses to get to the water in the first place (okay, there were three dead fish, but they had been there a long time and the whole place smelled like it should be the end of August instead of the beginning of June). I remained scarred by the disappointment of our last swimming attempt, so although the kids were outfitted in swim suits, I remained in my tank top and capris. Soon, I was wishing I had exercised more faith and put on the swim suit because we found one of the best spots I’ve been to and it was less than 10 minutes from my Lake Elmo home and, wait for it, because it happened to be the first Tuesday of the month, it was FREE. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried!

What was this sublime discovery of bliss on such a sweaty hot day? It was a swimming pond. What exactly is that, you ask? To the untrained eye, it looks like a cross between a traditional pond (because of the small size), a sandy beach (because of the, well, the sand), and a park (because of the restrooms close nearby and the playground just over the hill). But it is even more than all that. It is a chlorinated, shallow, sandy bottomed haven of respite on an unseasonably hot day. It was perfect for my three kids (ages seven and under) to splash and swim safely for hours without any leeches, weeds, or swimmer’s itch. I was kicking myself for not having on my suit because we would have stayed much longer than the two hours we did had I been prepared. Next time, I’ll bring one of those plastic weave, collapsible lawn chairs so I can sit in the water and throw things for my little retrievers to fetch while I bask without getting any sand anywhere it does not belong.

The word on the street is that if you want a spot under an umbrella, especially on the weekend, you must get there by 10:00a.m., and the weekends during the summer are very busy. It will be sure to pick up as children finish school. It was also suggested that it settles down after dinner, so for less activity and more room to spread out, it might be wise to leave for an early dinner, then return just as everyone else is heading out. It only costs $25 for a permit that is good for a year, which is so worth it especially when you consider the cost of bringing a family to a water park for the day. I drive a rockin’ minivan so just think of how many people I could cram in it and bring to the swimming pond, especially if we have a hot summer. If you’re looking for a cheap time and a chance to swim, dig, splash, build, float and relax, this is the place to try.

http://www.co.washington.mn.us/info_for_residents/parks_division/hours_and_fees/lake_elmo_park_reserve/ (Scroll down in the link to see/read info about the swimming pond.)

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