But as the Great Recession has drained city budgets across the country, it also has drained public pools for good. From New York City to Sacramento, Calif., pools now considered costly extravagances are being shuttered, taking away a rite of summer for millions. It's especially hard for families that can't afford a membership to private pool or fitness club and don't live in a neighborhood where they can befriend with someone with a backyard pool.
Hard times haven't always meant cutbacks. An author who studied the role swimming pools played in 20th century America found more than 1,000 municipal pools were built as public works projects during the Great Depression. But this time, most governments only see decades-old pools burning holes in already tight budgets.
In the past two years, Anderson has closed two pools to the public, one shuttered for good and one hanging on by a thread, run by a swim club only for swim team practices and lessons. In all, four public pools within 20 miles of the city have closed since the economy went sour.
"You think about American culture - swimming and summer just go together. A lot of these kids not having the opportunity to swim - it's just hard to swallow. Not only is it important for safety, but what you should do as a kid is swim and have fun and be active," said Tommy Starkweather, the swim team coach at the Sheppard Swim Center, which was closed to the public in January.
But running a pool is an expensive proposition. The Anderson Swim Club spends $10,000 a month on insurance, operations and maintenance even for the pool's current limited use. In Grand Traverse County, Mich., the only public pool for the county's 87,000 residents lost $244,000 last year.
"That's three sheriff's deputies on the road," County Commissioner Christine Maxbauer said.
Grand Traverse County is also facing a looming deficit of more than $1 million, and commissioners are debating whether it is fair to keep to pool open when other services get cut.
"We have to focus on vital services ... . Clearly a swimming pool is not a vital service," said Maxbauer, whose husband is a competitive swimmer.
In Sacramento, Calif., the city's more than 465,000 residents had 13 pools to choose from a decade ago. By the start of the summer of 2012, only three public pools will be open.
The city has tried for years to keep from closing any pools completely by shortening hours and closing them only on certain days. But the lingering economic downturn has cut $1 million from Sacramento's aquatics budget, leaving officials with just $700,000 for pools, said Dave Mitchell, operations manager for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.