- Associated Press - Sunday, August 30, 2015

CONCORD, Mass. (AP) - Every day throughout the summer, Mark Censky gets to experience two days. No, he doesn’t have some sort of time machine.

First is the workday grind in Lowell, where he’s a career consultant for engineers. Then after work, it’s a brand-new day at Walden Pond.

“It’s an absolute must-stop,” said Censky, a regular at the historic pond in Concord. “You get a whole new day and feel totally refreshed. You can swim with all these people across the pond. What could be better?

“I’m the biggest ambassador for Walden,” added Censky, who commutes to Lowell from Arlington. “It’s totally worth the drive.”

Another Walden Pond regular, Michelle Gross, gets to experience three days per day during the summer months - also, without a time machine.

In the early morning, she swims for 1.25 miles at the 100-foot-deep glacial kettle-hole pond. Then the Newton resident heads to work in Burlington, and she finishes her day with another 1.25 miles.

“This gets to become your summer home,” said Gross, who has been swimming across the half-mile body of water for 26 years. “It’s like a vacation right in the backyard.”

Censky and Gross are not alone in their love for this National Historic Landmark, considered the birthplace of the conservation movement. If it’s a summer morning or night without thunderstorms, spectators on the beach will witness dozens of heads gliding across the pond.

Walden has become quite a destination for distance swimmers, growing more popular in the last five years, according to Peter Hoffmann, field operation team leader for the Walden complex.

There are always groups of triathletes heading across the pond, he said. The half-mile length is appealing because distance swimmers can see how long it takes them to finish a mile.

“We’ve always attracted distance swimmers, and now it seems like everyone’s into fitness today,” he said.

“Everyone’s engaged in it now.

“Walden is one of the cleanest and most accessible ponds in the Boston vicinity, so we get a lot of people from all over,” Hoffmann added.

However, the open-water swimming that attracts so many people to Walden is also inherently dangerous, reads a sign at the pond’s entrance. That sign was recently posted as the state continues to address open-water swimming safety.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation also developed a set of guidelines for distance swimming at Walden.

“These policies allow swimmers to go across the pond and be safe,” Hoffmann said. “Educating visitors of these policies is key, and we’re hoping people get the message and self-police themselves. We don’t want to overly regulate them.”

At the launching points for the open-water swimmers, there are lists of safe practices attached to poles. With the signs, the state makes it clear that DCR staff does not guard any areas beyond the roped area, and that untrained individuals should not try to swim across the pond.

“We encourage people to know their limits and to use the buddy system. Let someone know where they’re going,” Hoffmann said. “It’s about using a common-sense approach.”

DCR provides a guarded waterfront area during the designated “swimming season” between Memorial Day and Labor Day. DCR encourages all swimmers to use the guarded swimming area, and to swim there during the swimming season.

DCR staff does not guard any areas beyond the roped area or outside of the swimming season.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., when lifeguards are on duty, DCR sends out a patrol boat once an hour to see if there are any issues beyond the ropes.

“But we’re not actively looking for people in trouble,” Hoffmann said.

In 2013, during the off season, State Police divers recovered the body of a swimmer in Walden Pond. The 63-year-old Lincoln man had told his wife he might try to swim the length of the pond.

After this incident, Censky, the swimmer from Arlington, researched how to keep distance swimmers safe. He concluded that personal flotation devices would help, and he immediately ordered some.

Slowly but surely more people started to use them at Walden, he said.

“Having that makes a big difference because it’s easy to grab if you have some type of pain,” Censky said. “I absolutely recommend it to people going across because no one’s going to save you if you’re alone.

“Who knows? That gentleman could have maybe survived with it,” he added. “You need to have a backup system if something goes wrong.”

Gross also recommends that people unsure about their swimming abilities should take the open-water self-assessment.

“You should know your limits, don’t push it when you’re tired, have a buddy, know what water temperature you can swim in comfortably,” she said. “Just use common sense.”


Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, https://www.lowellsun.com

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