BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It’s called flying in the face of the prevailing trend. But what the Annville-Cleona Community Pool is accomplishing is not only unconventional, it’s being accomplished in an unconventional fashion.
One might try to explain its budding membership with the fact that the communities of Annville and Cleona are so tight-knit, among the closest in all of the county. But it seems that the people who frequent the Annville-Cleona pool are coming from all parts of the locale.
Dave Gardner is the 28-year-old manager of the Annville-Cleona Community Pool, and he and his family have been involved with swimming in the A-C community for most of this century.
“We have more members from areas like Cornwall, northern Lebanon, the eastern parts of the county than we do from Annville and Cleona,” said Gardner. “I don’t know if that’s because of what we offer. A lot of our members come from the periphery of the Annville-Cleona school district. That’s somewhat confusing. But those community lines don’t matter in the end. People come here and make friends.
“The feeling we can provide is what we have going for us,” continued Gardner. “People have other activities they can do indoors. I think it’s because of the atmosphere. That’s what we really try to push.”
With 500 memberships – 350 families and 150 individuals – the Annville-Cleona Pool’s is among the strongest in Lebanon County. One has to look close to see the difference between A-C and other community pools, but it is there.
“At one point, the attendance on a hot summer day could be over a thousand,” said Gardner. “From the mid to late (19) 90s to 2000, the crowds definitely diminished. But since 2005, we’ve seen the crowds grow out here. There have been times when we’ve had to add (life)guards. We’re seeing more families with children coming out. That’s what makes this place what it is.
“We have seen people from Iona, people occasionally from Myerstown, people from (the now closed) Valley Beach, people from (the now closed) Northeast,” added Gardner. “People come here and they find they love it. We have a lot of space.”
Located on East Maple Street in Annville, just north of Route 422, the Annville-Cleona Community Pool was built in 1960. The club, which runs independently of municipal government, was founded with the traditional concept of a community pool in mind.
“When the pool was built, it was built with the idea that it would be a community recreation area,” said Gardner. “What made this place popular originally was that it was a place to hang out. We’ve maintained that family feel over the years. People are looking for affordable options. The atmosphere of this place has maintained that feel. I think we’re doing well with what we have.
“Part of the lore is that it’s comforting, because things appear not to change,” Gardner continued. “But we try to improve internally every year. People like to come out and see that this place is no different than when they left at the end of last season. But we are really grateful for the people who frequent this place.”
The facility is home to the competitive Annville-Cleona swimming Otters team. Another draw appears to be the pool’s popular swim lessons, which some 500 children took part in this summer alone.
The Annville-Cleona Community Pool also hosts Family Nights that include music, games and movies.
“We have a whole bunch of sun-bathers,” Gardner added. “We also have a crowd who just likes to see familiar faces. We have lap swimmers. Smaller children use the baby pool. We also have an evening crowd who comes out after work. You see people sit where they always sit.”
Perhaps the key to the pool’s success is that the more things change there, the more they stay the same. Apparently, familiarity breeds content.
“People who have lived in Annville for years tell us, ‘I didn’t know there was a pool back there’. The swimming pool is kind of hidden,” said Gardner. “Yeah, I came here when I was growing up. And that’s another part that makes it so special. Things haven’t really changed since I came out here as a kid. I think people have fond memories of the pool growing up.
“The one main change that’s taken place is that we added a liner to cover the steel plate,” continued Gardner. “To have the whole pool painted regularly was very costly. But other than the liner, not much has really changed.
“My main concern is always safety. That’s above everything. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. I want to see people enjoying themselves. I like to see them leave happy. We want to do that for the community.”