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Great Barrington to hold second annual safe swimming event, fundraiser this weekend

Lake Mansfield in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
C. Ward
Great Barrington Land Conservancy
Lake Mansfield in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

The town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts is holding a safe swimming event Sunday that will raise funds for public parks while educating the community on how to access its bodies of water.

Bill Meier loves swimming.

“Last night, Josh, we swam up in Lee," he said. "And it's cloudy, it was cold. And there were about 12 of us there in the middle of the lake. And all of a sudden, a bald eagle flies over us. Like, where can you have that kind of an experience? It's like right in the middle of the Berkshires, it's wonderful!”

Meier is Athletic Director of Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington. One of the many unexpected impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increased interest in swimming across Massachusetts — sometimes with dramatic consequences.

“Over in the east side of the state, there were a number of drownings that happened of people going in the bays and lakes over there," Meier told WAMC. "And in response to that last summer, Charlie Baker came up with the idea of any DCR lakes, the Department of Conservation resources, any of those lakes or rivers or bays, anybody that was found in open water that was not protected, they received pretty punitive response to that.”

Meier, a member of Great Barrington’s Parks and Rec committee, says that the community wanted to pursue a different approach to the problem.

“So last summer, we came up with a with a safety clinic that we offered at Lake Mansfield, and we had about 30 people who liked to be in the water, but never really went further out and never went for any distance in the water because they were nervous about a number of different elements in the open water," he told WAMC. "So we tried to help them understand how to be safe, how to take advantage of the water that's out there.”

Sunday morning, the town is holding a second, expanded version of the safe swimming clinic.

“We're also going to have a short swim just like we did last year, but this year, we're going to add in a longer swim, a half mile swim for people who have been practicing now and been excited and for people who are experienced in racing in the open water," said Meier. "And we're going to provide a larger venue and a larger experience for people so that they can see that this is something that they can really pursue and take advantage of.”

Those who register for the event will receive a free safety buoy. Proceeds will support park improvements.

“Basically, it’s an inflatable bubble that you can that you can attach to your waist," explained Meier. "It doesn't get in your way at all when you're swimming and it provides an incredible amount of safety, because if you get tired you can hold on to it. When you're swimming out in the lake, if there's boaters out there, they can they can see it. It increases visibility.”

Meier says while you can never eliminate risk from swimming, practical safety tips include doing it with others and not overstepping your own comfort level.

“Everybody I talk to has a little thing that they're a little nervous about when you're out in the water," he said. "So until you until you feel comfortable with that, you should really be careful. Don't go too far, stay close to the edge, swim with other people and use that safer swimmer buoy. And, you know, that's going to provide you with the ultimate amount of safety that you're going to have.”

That said, Meier says the precautions and trainings are all well worth the payoff.

“When you get out into the lakes, when you get out into the rivers, there's no way that you can have a more intimate experience with the environment that you are part of," he told WAMC. "People with swimming pools, when we get them out into the lakes, the response is always just, like, I should have been doing this for my life, this is just so great.”

Great Barrington’s safe swimming fundraiser event will be held at Lake Mansfield Sunday morning.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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