By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – A tanned lifeguard lounging atop a tall seat overlooking a crowded beach has been a visionary staple of summer in America for decades, but that might soon be a part of history.
Municipalities have struggled for several years to attract young people willing to fill the roles of lifeguards for various reasons, but the pandemic and the resulting shortened summer season seems to be speeding up the trend.
For the first time in memory, Warsaw and Winona Lake will not have lifeguards on the three nearby lakes this summer. The trend is seen elsewhere in Kosciusko County and stretches to some of the beaches along Lake Michigan.
Warsaw Parks & Recreation Superintendent Larry Plummer said this year’s pandemic made it even more difficult to attract applicants because the work season is shorter than normal.
Beaches in Warsaw opened last week and signs at the lifeguard station now warn visitors to swim at their own risk.
Plummer, who attended the city’s weekly media briefing at city hall about the pandemic, was asked if he thinks the lifeguard era is ending.
“I do,” Plummer said simply.
Years ago, the city had as many of 14 lifeguards. That then fell to about six and last year, the parks department only had four lifeguards available.
Plummer blamed it on the certification process and a lack of interest.
“The whole state struggles with lifeguards right now, so I can see us going in the future without lifeguards and (using) signage,” Plummer said.