A midnight dive into Storrie

Back in the olden days, before Storrie Lake became a state park and when entry was free, I once took a couple of neighbor-acquaintances swimming. I call them acquaintances because they were not exactly my friends.

Without getting into the semantics of what a friend is, let me explain that they were simply young men my age whom I saw regularly but who weren’t part of my circle.

I had a car, in a manner of speaking; they didn’t. In the early ‘60s, when the Optic had a genuine weekend paper with a tabloid Sunday supplement, “Omnibus,” I’d leave work at midnight. On my way home one time, the acquaintances, Henry and Don, flagged me down as they were stepping out of one of several bars on East Lincoln, a block from my work.

I offered them a ride home, but they asked, instead, for a ride to Storrie Lake — and would I wait for them while they swam? Why not? When we got there, they started tugging at my arms, one of them saying, “Let’s teach Mannie (my nickname) how to swim.” No thanx! I’d taken beginning swimming at Highlands and learned how to do one thing: save myself. But here, where it was virtually pitch black, the only illumination coming from my headlights, I preferred not to wet my feet, or any other body part.

I got off with only a slight bit of teasing — they didn’t dare be too offensive, as I was their ride home. I waited what seemed like hours, but it was closer to 45 minutes. In that span, I could hear their heavy breathing as they dived into the cold Storrie waters, submerged way down, came up for air and convinced me they indeed had aqua lungs.

What fine specimens they were! They were behaving like barracudas, in cold, almost totally dark conditions, and loving it. On nights like that one, a spectator feels attuned to every sound as well. I could clearly hear their breathing and make out their conversation, even when they were so far out I couldn’t determine their location. Once, the sound of their breathing stopped. I froze. What if they’ve drowned?

They had been silent for too long to please me, but I soon learned they’d gone underwater on cue, just to test my reaction.

When they returned, soaked and shivering, I marveled at their stamina and their willingness to go for yet another dip, if only I’d wait for them. I drove them home instead, envious that my Beginning Swimming class at the university taught me natatorial skills comparable to those of a young rock, and these young men with me, who grew up on similar parched plains, swam like champs.

Highlands built its pool around 1954, and that might have been the opportunity for Henry and Don to learn to swim.

• • •

Well, that memory came to mind in light of the current kerfuffle over the announcement that the local water users organization plans to fence off Lake Storrie to all except people fishing from boats. The announcement was sudden, appearing in recent ads in the Optic, even though the lease between the state and the water users association expired nine months ago.

Yet it seems as if no topic — not the economy, nor the DWI situation, nor the coming local elections — has drawn more attention.

Millions of words and ideas have already been expressed on that matter, so here’s my share:

An advertisement that ran as recently as Monday explains — unambiguously — that the lake will be closed to the public except for fishing from boats. But are people fully aware of the plenitude of uses for our state park? It’s not just for (boat) fishing. There’s windsurfing, skiing, sailing, picnicking, hiking, biking and much more.

Without bothering to list the entire lexicon of uses for the lake, let me explain that restricting it to boat fishing utterly defeats the purpose of having such an attraction.

It’s true that the two sides are failing to see eye to eye, but regardless, let’s not create a caste system in which boat owners have a privilege unavailable to other fee-paying park users. Does an inner tube count as a boat?

How big an ecological footprint is left by the fisherperson on foot, who simply wants to catch the limit by dipping a line into the lake? Tens of thousands of people who love the lake for its beauty, serenity and utility are doubtless willing to work toward a resolution to the issue that few of us saw coming.

Let’s help solve it, and in doing so, let’s keep the park public. Don’t fence us out.

• • •

Ever notice that it’s almost impossible to find a brochure, touting the attractions of this area, that lacks photos of Storrie Lake?

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