THE OLD SWIMMING HOLE

By Bob Reiss, From the Re-Echo, Summer 2003

The need in 1963 was for more parks and recreational facilities in St. Louis Park. Ken Wolfe was the mayor, and one of his pet projects was what is now known as Wolfe Park.

The area to be designated Wolfe Park included a lake called Johnson Lake. It was located near Highway 100 and W. 36th Street. It was not much of a lake; it was well hidden, and all manner of activities took place there. The local kids found it great for swimming, although that activity was not authorized by the City and probably not even by their parents. Bathing suits were optional.

The name of the lake was changed in 1963 to Wolfe Lake, and plans were instituted to make it into a real swimming lake with sandy beaches and lifeguards. A unique part of the plan for Wolf Lake was that it would be dredged to increase the size from one acre to eight acres. The sand of the dredged area would be sold, and the receipts would be used to improve the rest of the park system.

In the summer of 1964, work was completed, and Wolfe Lake was ready to be officially opened for swimming and summer activities. Before the beaches could be opened, however, a report from the Minnesota Department of Health showed unhealthy levels of bacteria in the lake. Although the lake was spring fed, there was not enough water circulation to prevent the buildup of bacteria. In spite of the report, the City Council decided to open the lake for the balance of 1964 on an experimental basis while it studied a possible solution to the problem.

One solution was to pump water into the lake from an unused well on the adjacent Friedheim Gravel property and let it discharge into a swampy area south of the lake. Because the existing well pump was too small to pump the needed amount of water and the discharge into the swampy area would also need to be pumped, the project was deemed too expensive. The only other alternative was to build a $30,000 filtration plant, which was also too expensive. The Minnesota Department of Health, in its reports, strongly advised St. Louis Park to build a municipal swimming pool rather than spend money on Wolfe Lake. For the 1965 season, the beach was never opened and the site was abandoned as swimming pool.

The failure of the Wolfe Park swimming beach had two positive consequences. First, it provided a net profit of $24,000 from the sale of sand. This money was designated to be used in the development of the St. Louis Park park system. Secondly, it increased the interest in park development. Plans for parks and recreation in St. Louis Park took on higher priority, and as a result, a referendum was passed to provide money for parks. In 1972, the new Recreational Center, with swimming pool, was opened.