Access to popular island swimming hole to be restricted after visitors overrun it

Anderson Island’s popular Lake Florence swimming hole will reopen Saturday, but you might think twice about taking a dip there if you don’t live on the island.

The Anderson Island Parks and Recreation District will begin restricting parking at Lowell Johnson Park in an effort to limit crowds at what’s known as the “Ol’ Swimming Hole.”

The park has been closed since July 31, 2020 after there were difficulties complying with Washington’s Phase 2 guidelines for reopening during the pandemic. Parks district Commissioner John Larsen said the park had an issue with crowds before COVID-19 as well due to mentions in articles about recreational opportunities in the Puget Sound region.

“This has been going on for quite awhile,” Larsen told The News Tribune. “People read those articles and they tell their friends, and they come out here and they try to spend the day on the island.”

To limit crowds, parking now will be limited to the 15 spaces available inside of the park’s perimeters, according to a press release from AIPRD. When the lot is full, cars will be turned away at the park’s entry gate and a chain will block the entrance. People may still walk or bike into the park once the lot is full, Larsen said.

All AIPRD parks are open from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily unless otherwise posted. A gate attendant will be stationed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Larsen said.

The park district is paying $38 an hour for the new gate attendant, a cost Larsen said AIPRD is still grappling with. The park has an annual budget of about $155,000, Larsen said. Memorial Day weekend will serve as a “test run” for the new regulations and position.

Larsen believes the restrictions and their cost will pay off by limiting the number of day trippers who come to Anderson Island by ferry to visit the park.

Larsen said some visitors get “out of hand” and don’t comply with park restrictions on alcohol consumption, dogs and smoking.

“Me, being the one in charge of that park, I hear, ‘I used to go there. I used to really like going to Lowell Johnson Park ... but I just don’t go there anymore because it’s too crowded and there’s too many rude people,’” Larsen said.

Complaints led the parks district to conduct a survey in 2020 where 274 residents responded. The survey found 80% of island residents listed overcrowding as a concern and almost 40% had limited their use of the park because of it, according to a news release. That same survey found that over half of those surveyed were concerned about the presence of dogs at the park, alcohol consumption and the “aggressive behavior of visitors.”

Larsen is a long-time resident of the island and said it is experiencing a lot of growth. There are 11 parks on the island, but Lowell Johnson is the only one of its kind that isn’t owned privately.

“When a park gets overused, it’s not good for anybody,” Larsen said. “Nobody enjoys it anymore.”

This story was originally published on The News Tribune.