Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
The city’s last authorized beach along the Potomac River shut down in 1924 because of pollution. And it’s only been a couple years since scientists blamed the level of chicken poop there for turning boy fish into girl fish. (Really.) Unless you’re a triathlete, it’s still illegal to swim the river. But over the last few summers, the District government has done a fabulous job of giving residents places to get wet during the hot season. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation website now lists 18 outdoor “aquatic centers” that will open this Memorial Day. And these aren’t your father’s DCPR pools. Until just a few years ago, a typical locker room had the smell of a Porta-Potty at the Preakness, and the only thing harder to find than soap on the premises of a public pool was a lifeguard who valued human life. But before Mayor Adrian Fenty mysteriously deposed him in 2009, DCPR director Clark Ray began to bring the hygiene level at the pools up to something more than acceptable, and the Clean It And They Will Come principle took effect. All of Petworth and 16th Street Heights now shows up at Upshur pool on 14th Street NW on nice days, and early in the season last year staff was forced to turn away folks at the door. The impact the well-run facilities have on the quality of life in the neighborhoods is immeasurably good. And, oh, yeah, admission is free for D.C. residents.