Pushback prompts backstroke on Warren swimming restrictions

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 8/15/23

Following pushback from two residents who proudly espoused their enjoyment of twilight swims in local waters, the Warren Town Council agreed to roll back a proposed amendment to the local swimming ordinance that would have prohibited night-time dips.

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Pushback prompts backstroke on Warren swimming restrictions

Posted

Following pushback from two residents who proudly espoused their enjoyment of twilight swims in local waters, the Warren Town Council agreed to roll back a proposed amendment to the local swimming ordinance that would have prohibited night-time dips “between sunset and sunrise,” and even went a step further to loosen restrictions for swimming on non-town property in general.

The issue came up as part of a series of amendments proposed last month by the Warren Parks and Recreation board, and its vice chairman, Derrick Trombley. Most of those changes passed through without much fanfare, including restrictions to camping on town property and a new ordinance against playing loud music within close proximity to schools.

But a change proposed to Section 11 of Chapter 13 of the Warren Code of Ordinances would have dictated that swimming be prohibited within all local waters from “sunset and sunrise”, as opposed to the existing language, which permitted swimming except for the hours between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Trombley explained that since darkness falls at different times throughout the year, the board felt that changing to a more adaptable time frame would be appropriate.

“The time period established by the ordinance has no rational relationship to sunrise or sunset,” Trombley said before the council. “The concern for the ordinance in the first place is that swimming at night is a very dangerous activity. People have been known to drown in higher quantities than when the sun is out.”

But two well-spoken enjoyers of evening hours swimming disagreed.

“I work from 8 in the morning until 5 p.m. I take care of my family, I take care of my disabled, elderly parents, including my mother, who is full care. My mother goes to bed at 8 o’clock at night and regularly, probably five out of seven days a week, I put her to bed, slip out at quarter of 9 at night, and go down to the river and I go swimming,” said Jean McCabe, who has lived near the Kickemuit River since she was a young child. “It is not just for enjoyment. It’s not just to cool off. It’s my only time for peace. It’s my only time for exercise.”

McCabe argued that the ambiguous language of prohibiting swimming from “sunset to sunrise” would prevent her from doing something she has done legally and safely for decades without issue.

“Every single day, sunset and sunrise is a different minute,” she continued. “My mom isn’t going to go to bed at 6 o’clock at night so her daughter can finally get some rest and go swimming. I’m just one person, but to change something to be ambiguous, general, without a specific mitigation need … I just can’t accept the fact, and I am a law-abiding citizen, that this is going to be this strict and this controlling. It is not okay for our freedom and for our ability to just be people.”

Locust Terrace resident Barbara Frank agreed.

“It’s a glorious time to be swimming in that twilight,” she said, adding that she could understand placing more stringent restrictions on juveniles who may not be as aware of the dangers of swimming at night. “But I am very aware of the tides and aware of the circumstances, and I plan to stay alive. I don’t want to have anything happen to me when I swim. It’s just a time of night that is a preferred time.”

Councilors not only heard the residents out, but pondered why they had been dictating when residents were allowed to swim in waters that aren’t even subject to potential liability issues in the first place.

They agreed to amend the amendment to strike the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. restriction for local waters entirely. The one change they approved was to prohibit time for swimming at the Town Beach (the only town-owned land where swimming is observed), from “dusk until dawn.”

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