On the water / Cool Pools
1 Pool Plaza off Delaware Rd., Town of Tonawanda
The pool is open Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m.–6 p.m., and Sundays 9 a.m.–5 p.m., but check the center’s website before heading out as it closes for special events from time to time.
For cold and rainy days when the kids still want to swim, the Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness Center is the perfect indoor pool, offering something for everyone. The facility was originally built for the New York State Games in 1991 and boasts two Olympic-sized pools. Its sheer size and amenities can be overwhelming, so here’s a breakdown:
First, you don’t have to be a resident or member to use the facility. Walk-in rates are $10 per person or $20 per family and you’ll need to show a government-issued ID and sign in. You can also accompany a resident for a guest rate of $5 per person.
There are men’s and women’s locker rooms, and children over the age of four can’t go into opposite sex locker rooms and restrooms; there is a unisex room for families to use. The facility requires that everyone going into the pools take a soap shower first, so, in addition to swimsuits, towels, and a change of clothes, pack soap and shampoo.
The kiddie pool offers the ideal spot for gentle water play for four- to seven-year-olds, with a depth from six to twenty-four inches, balmy eighty-three-degree water, and a mushroom-shaped fountain in the middle, while parents take a breather on the surrounding lounge chairs. Kids younger than four need to be accompanied by a caregiver over the age of eighteen who’s in a bathing suit and within arm’s reach at all times. Be sure to pack a swim diaper and suits for babies and toddlers (they won’t be allowed in the pool with just shorts or a regular diaper) but leave the pool toys at home, since only facility-provided toys and floats are allowed in.
Teens aged fourteen and up (this new age requirement at the facility went into effect in 2015) love relaxing in the nearby thirteen-seater whirlpool, but keep in mind the facility requires stepping out every fifteen minutes to momentarily cool off with a quick shower before stepping back in, and pregnant women have to provide a medical release form from a doctor to use the whirlpool.
The main pool—all 780,000 gallons of it—is the showstopper here, and a bulkhead usually divides the area to allow for greater flexibility with water programs, including swimming lessons, exercise, scuba classes, and swim team practices. There’s ample room for lap and recreational swimming and diving for more accomplished swimmers, so families with older kids will enjoy some quality time in the comfortably-heated (about eighty-two degrees) water. Even though lifeguards are on duty, keep in mind children aged eight and younger must be accompanied in the pool by a parent or guardian over age eighteen at all times, and the maximum ratio is two kids for every adult, so this isn’t the place to bring younger kids and their friends by yourself.
If you like what the facility has to offer, there are membership packages for residents and nonresidents, and many insurance carriers may subsidize the costs. There are also birthday party packages and numerous lessons and classes offered for all ages and levels. Nonwater activities include a sauna, steam room, and, of course, the recently renovated fitness facility with places for stretching, cardio workouts, seated strength machines and weight exercises, and classes. Check the website for more information and age requirements.
– Tara Erwin
Fort Niagara State Park, Route 18F, Youngstown
A jewel at the end of the Niagara River corridor is brighter. Recent renovations to its facilities for those who use Fort Niagara State Park’s pools have made this an even more attractive destination for families looking for a day of swimming, beachcombing, and picnicking. The pools were closed all summer last year, so that an expansive new bathhouse could be built. The low-slung brick and stone structure looks like it’s been there all along, thanks to a tasteful design that plays off the historic structures nearby. New York State Parks has also added new boat docks that include dedicated fishing space as well as a jet ski launch. The bathhouse serves three pools: wading, water slide-equipped, and a large, if shallow, pool, perfect for laps.
Although it lacks a swimming beach, Fort Niagara’s location on Lake Ontario has always made it one of Western New York’s most beautiful locations for swimming, playing, and cookouts. There are well-equipped playgrounds, picnic shelters, picnic tables, grills, and a nature center that offers information on the natural history and political history of the site.
– Elizabeth Licata
2713 Niagara Falls Boulevard, Wheatfield; 731-5939
Oppenheim Park, run by the Niagara County Parks Department, is open every day from Memorial Day through September, 9 a.m.–7 p.m., and the splash park is open every day 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Listen up, moms with young kids: there’s a hidden gem in Niagara County that offers an afternoon of water and land play absolutely free. Drive past the unassuming sign welcoming you to the ninety-two-acre park about half a mile, and you’ll be greeted with ample parking and a gated splash pad, perfect for toddlers up to elementary school age. Kids can run around to their heart’s content, squirting, dumping, and dashing through the half dozen or so brightly-painted water features—complete with buckets, cannons, and ground sprays—while caregivers rest and stay relatively dry on nearby benches (be aware that the benches inside the water area are in full sun, so make sure lap or stroller-sitting infants have hats and sunscreen). There are no park workers on duty here, so keep the little ones supervised, and also be aware that the water is cold, which feels wonderful on a hot summer day, but may be jarring at first. The restrooms—in an actual building, not the portable kind—are well-maintained and just steps away, making this a potty-training-friendly facility as well. After everyone’s cooled off, the adjacent playground offers even more ways for the kiddos to burn off excess energy. Pack a lunch or snacks to enjoy under the trees or picnic benches, and bring some plastic magnifying glasses and old mayonnaise containers (no glass is allowed inside the park) for bug watching and collecting. There’s also a stocked fishing pond nearby.
– Tara Erwin