Denny Crotty remembers when at the end of the summer season, trout and dogs used to swim in the Forest Park pool. Crotty grew up in the late sixties and early seventies at 827 Beloit, just four houses from the entrance to the Park District of Forest Park and the pool. It was, he remembered, a great time to be a kid in Forest Park.
Especially when the swimming season ended and the final phase of the pool season began.
“We had a great block,” he recalled. “As many as 18 of us [as young as 6 and as old as 16] from the neighborhood would be at the gate to the pool at 5:30 in the morning, lining up to get in when it opened at 7 a.m. There was a concession stand where you could buy frozen cheese balls for bait, but a lot of us brought along Velveeta cheese from home.”
Crotty said when the pool closed for the season after Labor Day, park staff would let the pool just sit — no pumps running and no water being filtered — for a month. The water would get all green with moss and algae to provide oxygen for 250 pounds of trout from Wisconsin (each fishing weighing about a pound) which would dumped into the pool at the end of the month.
Crotty laughed and rattled off several stories about fishing in the pool. It was kept about three quarters full so he and his friends would head to the deep end and claim a spot along the edge.
“When we would get bored — and it wouldn’t take long for us to get bored because fishing is fishing — you’d be sitting on the edge of the pool not paying attention and one of your so-called buddies would give you a little nudge. Now you’re soaking wet and have algae and moss all over you.
“They would all stand there laughing at you, and no one would offer to help you out.”
“A few times,” he added, “someone would catch a fish full of roe—a milky mixture of eggs and something like yoke. They’d make a little slit in the fish, walk up to you and squeeze the ‘milk’ all over you. It was the worst smelling stuff!”
The rule was you could only bring home two fish, so Crotty and his buddies would sometimes look around until no one in authority was watching, then throw the trout over the fence to be picked up on the way home.
Crotty, who has worked on the park’s buildings and grounds crew for 26 years and now cleans the pool at the end of the season, said that as “fishing season” came to a close on Oct. 20, the park would conduct a little tournament. The winner was judged not by the number of trout caught but by the total weight.
The prize for the winner might be a gift certificate to Ed’s Way or a season pass to the pool. Every year, he said, the staff would stock one around 25 pounds, which they christened “Big Mo.” It wasn’t just a tall tale. One year a guy actually caught it.
At the end of fishing season, they would let people bring their dogs in for about three days and let them swim in the pool for a few hours in the evening. People would throw stuff in the water for the dogs to fetch. Some who had Labs or Golden Retrievers would even throw in duck decoys to give the dogs practice for the hunting season.
“More than 500 children and adults,” ran a story posted by the Forest Park Historical Society two years ago, “showed up at the Forest Park Swimming Pool at the end of the swimming season in 1966 to try their luck at trout fishing. The park board and Superintendent James Sarno stocked the pool with 250 pounds of Wisconsin trout. At this fishing event more than 175 fish were caught on the first day, and even Mayor Howard Mohr fished with the kids. This tradition went on through the 1979 season and was adopted by park districts all around as a final end to the pool season.”
Why don’t we do this anymore? Fishing was possible in years past because the filtration system, using screens and bags of diatomaceous earth, could be cleaned easily. A few years ago a filtration system using large amounts of sand, which stay in place for two years, was installed and is impossible to clean from year to year.
Pool already reducing its summer hours
By the time you read this, the summer swim season in Forest Park will already have begun to wane.
Starting this past Monday the park district reduced pool hours Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. only. Weekend hours stay the same for now. Pass holders only from 10 a.m. to noon; noon to 5 p.m. for day swim; 515 to 6:30 p.m. for adults only; and 6:30 to 9 p.m. for night swim.
The pool will close for the season the day after Labor Day which is Sept. 6.
Rachell Entler of the park district says maintenance staff will move quickly after Labor Day to shut down pumps and winterize them. Surge tanks will be drained. The diving boards will be put in storage. Chairs and lane dividers will be stored.
Entler said the park district hopes to start construction on a new “spray ground” this fall.