Blue Ridge Pool, a spring-fed summer commodity, has cultivated a loyal following of swimmers since it was built by UVA graduate R. Warner Wood in 1913 and established as a swim club in 1944. This year, owner Todd Barnett announced that the pool will only be open on Sundays from noon to 8pm.
Barnett, who also runs the county’s Field School and Field Camp, has owned and operated the National Register of Historic Places’ 100-yard-long pool since 2011. He calls running it 101 days a year and eight hours a day a “labor of love” and says it has been hard to make ends meet.
And while there was grumbling from some members about the reduction from seven days a week to one day a week, most declined to comment on the record.
Blue Ridge Swim Club member Paul Barolsky, who was prominent in helping to lead the club when it was run by its members from 1966 to 2011, says the pool is “sensationally wonderful,” though new hours are “sadly restrictive.”
But over time, Barnett says the club has naturally evolved into a Sunday meeting spot and, in recent years, more than half of the weekly attendance has been racked up on that day.
“We never went over one sign-in sheet,” he says about Monday through Saturday attendance. “But on Sundays, we’d have three or four full.”
Barnett hopes the pool’s new hours will be more attractive to members, and while a membership usually costs between $300 and $500, the fee for this summer will be $50 per adult with free admission for children under 18. And he’s only selling 100 memberships for the eight days the pool will operate in 2016.
According to an e-mail Barnett sent to swim club members, he has had a tough time retaining members at the higher rates and, though he says he’s proved to be a successful businessman in other endeavors, he’s never made a penny off the pool.
“I’m not doing it for the money,” he says. “I’m just trying to keep it open for the people who like it.”
This summer will be the pool’s 103rd in operation. Rip Verkerke, a Blue Ridge Swim Club member of 25 years who also stepped up when it was operated by volunteers, says he and his wife mostly visit the pool on Sundays to enjoy the live music from local artists and to connect with friends. The new hours will not affect his membership.
“We understand how challenging it is to sustain small community pools,” he says, adding that Barnett is a “terrific neighbor and caring steward.”
Barnett admits it’s tough for a privately owned pool to compete against those subsidized by swim teams, such as the Fry’s Spring Beach Club and Fairview Swim and Tennis Club. Blue Ridge Pool’s more remote location near Ivy also leads to less traffic, he says.
Though Barnett can’t afford to pay two lifeguards “half a decent wage” seven days a week, he says he wants to make the pool accessible to those who use it most. In the e-mail to swim club members, he asked the “dedicated” lap swimmers who would still like to have off-hours access to the pool to reach out to him directly.
Blue Ridge Pool is the third-oldest pool in the country. According to Barnett, many historic pools go under because they require time and money that owners can’t provide. After all, pools, says Barnett, are “big, concrete structures that things go wrong with.”
He has no plans to sell the spot, which is also the site of Field Camp, and he will continue to make progress with the pool’s upkeep—”sprucing the place up,” he says—in every offseason to make it more organized and welcoming. The long, rectangular pool is secluded in a wooded area, and members can bring lounge chairs, towels and hot dogs for grilling.
The pool will be open every Sunday from June 19 to August 6. On those days members will still have access to yoga at noon and music at 6pm from well-known artists such as The Hill and Wood, Bobby Read and Devon Sproule.