MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — Lots of people are diving into the water this Memorial Day weekend. Most children are out of school and the hot temperatures call for a pool cool-down.
But, one community is not swimming this weekend. In fact, they may not be swimming all summer.
In December 2021, Tennessee State Parks announced that swimming pools at 11 different state parks would be closed. One of them was a beloved pool in Panther Creek State Park, in Hamblen County.
"It was shocking. I mean, there had been no warning that I knew of it was just, we were announcing this is what we're going to do," said Linda Noe. She lives a few miles from the state park.
In December, the mayor of Hamblen County, Bill Brittain said it took him by shock as well.
"Local officials, supporters of the park, friends of Panther Creek Park were not given any opportunity to give input on the decision to close the pool. The announcement was made, and that's when we first found out about it," the mayor said.
State officials said it would cost around $580,000 to repair the pool — more than what officials said was economically feasible. They also said that visitation was decreasing at the pool before the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to be closed for the last few seasons. It was last open in 2019.
"I got fired up about it, and created a FaceBook page to save our pool and even started an online petition," said Laura McCoy. She also lives in close proximity to the park.
McCoy has a 9-year-old daughter. She says they used to go to the pool all the time. That's why she decided to spearhead the effort to save it.
"It is a fantastic asset, not just for us, but for generations to come," McCoy said.
There are about 65,000 people in Hamblen County. The Panther Creek State Park pool was the biggest, most affordable pool in the area. In 2019, the pool cost just $4 a day for admission, and kids under 2 years old were admitted for free.
However, now that it's closed, Hamblen County community members have to look elsewhere for summer activities. McCoy said all other pools in the county require a membership or an expensive day-to-day admission fee.
"It's not feasible for most average working-class people, especially the demographic that you will typically find in Morristown, it's just too expensive," McCoy said.
There is a public pool in Jefferson County, but she said that's a long drive for a swim.
In December, the state said they would distribute $400,000 to Hamblen county so they could invest in other, year-round outdoor activity spaces. This funding would be in place of what they would have paid to fix the pool.
But, McCoy and other community members are hoping there's a way to use that $400,000 to go toward fixing the pool.
"We already know we have the new money coming... so that's $400,000. And Hamblen County has said that they would be willing to help bridge the gap," McCoy said. "And so I'm hoping also that through public fundraising, we can help close that gap."
McCoy is trying to organize a rally to show the public's support for keeping the pool open. Right now, she has that scheduled for July 9.
In the meantime, she is collecting signatures from Hamblen County community members to gauge the interest in keeping it open. As of May 29, that petition had over 2,000 names.
Now, it's all dependent on what the state has to say.