Just A Lazy Afternoon At The Park Forest Aqua Center

wading pool turtle
Children and adults enjoy the cool in the wading pool. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- My HTC Evo smart phone shows the temperature at 90 degrees F, showing an unclouded sun shimmering on my screen.

Seems fairly accurate as I sit just to the west of the children’s wading pool at the Park Forest Aqua Center this lazy Sunday afternoon, typing on my laptop that survived yet another run across town tucked carefully on the back of my bike.  The few clouds in the sky seem like they’re somewhere out there beyond the sun, which is never obscured by whisps of clouds that manages to pass by.

While biking over, I waved at a distance to my friend and colleague George Fabian, out for his afternoon stroll. I see him now heading south on Orchard, on the sidewalk. George never misses his afternoon constitution, as visible and reliable a Park Forest landmark in his black slacks, white shirt and cap, as the marquis on the Holiday Star Theater, perhaps.

The Aqua Center seems full this afternoon, the wading pool busy with parents and tots, some kids on their own but not yet ready to venture into the “teen” pool to the south.

Then the water slide, busy with teens, tots and adults it seems, no sooner making a splash in the yard-or-so-deep pool and they exit to take to the steps again.

This is a summer day in Park Forest: hot, not too humid, but cool in the water. Some pause for a few minutes to dash to buy a snack, Chicago Dough pizza, a soft pretzel, some candy, or this really freaky blue kind of ice the kids seem to inhale.

Remembering now photographing a bridge from the Library parking lot six months ago or so. All of this was frozen over, something about a blizzard.

Now, anything made of ice, blue or white, doesn’t last long.

Aqua Climb wall
One lad nears the top of the Aqua Climb wall in the deep end of the teen pool. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Many of the kids look like they’ve been at this for a while. I doubt any of them are thinking of winter days when the snow was taller than they are today, some sporting tans dark enough to challenge anyone in the tropics. Same is true for many teens and life guards.

Most of the adults, on the other hand, are several shades lighter than their children.

Some of us have to work.

The lifeguards calmly keep an eye on the wading pool as the little ones, never still for an instant, pursue each other with a variety of toys and kiddie water cannons. One young lad struggles to swim while stretched through the opening of an inner tube, mom close behind in tow.

If possible, the pool with the older children and teens shows more sporadic movement than the domain of the tots. Water slides and climbing wall are rarely vacant, children swimming in various directions at once, avoiding each other most of the time. Again, guards are relaxed but standing most o the time here. Older boys and young girls take their turns climbing to the top of the wall, letting go to drop into the cool depths.

The least movement is on the Adult Deck, “18 YEARS AND OLDER,” the sign warns; and another, “PLEASE ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN TO STAY OFF THE ADULT DECK.” Enter the realm of the Sun Philosophers, some seeking respite beneath shade, others braving the afternoon’s radiance and UV rays, most reclining chairs, books or newspaper in hand. Conversations happen in the water, mostly. Some faithfully swim laps, many just float, relax, chat, catch up.

It is summer, after all.

Tina Chlopecki reading in the shade
Tina Chlopecki of Flossmoor, here reading in the shade on the Adult Deck, is glad her membership does not require her to "Polo!" to someone else’s "Marco!" (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

The breeze is warm and refreshing. Adults are permitted to swim while the other two pools are ordered vacated for a few minutes so the guards can check the water and regroup.

Tina Chlopecki comes to the Aqua Center from her home in Flossmoor.

“I love this adult pool.” she says, “I’m a lap lanes swimmer.” Tina says she comes to Park Forest now that Dolphin Lake Pool in Homewood closed. A friend of hers started coming to the Aqua Center last year.

“I like that we don’t have to play Marco Polo,” she laughs, reflecting that, in Homewood, adults were relegated to two swim lanes and had to share the pool with the teens. “[The staff] are all friendly too,” she continues. “They kind of cater to the adults.”

Also met Colleen Beecher of Park Forest, and Eric Muchnik and Marie Powers of Old Matteson. They recalled coming to the Aqua Center as children and have had their own memberships for 15 years.

“Our kids live here,” Colleen said.

Stacy Marinucci
Area B resident Stacy Marinucci takes in some summer reading in the Adult Pool. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

When I mentioned there are people in Park Forest still remain unaware that we have an Aqua Center, Marie said, “That’s like not knowing about the Sears Tower.”

Indeed.

When I finally took the plunge into the far end of the adult pool, a former student surfaced near me. Nicole Williams was swimming laps. She leaves Park Forest near the end o August to begin her Masters in marine biology at Hawaii Pacific University, a two year program where she will swim with even bigger fish.

After swimming for a spell and chatting with Mike and Stacy Marinucci, I had a couple of cheese slices of pizza and a tall, cool bottle of water.

This was my first day at the Aqua Center all summer long. As I left through the remodeled bathhouse, I honestly thought to myself, “Why did I wait so long to come back this summer?”

Next time, no camera, no tripod, no laptop. I’ll peddle over on my bike, backpack holding my Kindle, and join the Sun Philosophers on the Adult Deck.

Or maybe the kids going down the water slide.

A few summer moments in video beneath this photo:

Adult Deck Sun Philosophers
Colleen Beecher of Park Forest (left) enjoys some afternoon rays with Eric Muchnik and Marie Powers, both of Old Matteson. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)