A glass jar on the counter at North End Market on Vine Street makes a plea for donations to the family of William “Billy” Allen, who drowned Tuesday in the remnants of Hamilton’s old canal system.
“Remember this could have been one of our children,” the sign says, and neighbors are saying that unless the young people of Hamilton are provided with summertime diversions, it could happen again.
And the irony that there is a closed and dry city pool just yards from where Billy Allen died is not lost on the neighborhood. Allen and two friends had been fishing at the canal and decided to take a swim to cool off, according to Butler County sheriff’s officials.
“Ever since the pool closed, there’s been nothing for the kids to do,” said Nikki Muntz, a mother of three who was working the cash register at North End Market one afternoon last week. “We used to go to the pool three or four days a week.”
Muntz said that the danger of swimming in the canal is common knowledge in the neighborhood, but a lot of children and families kill time on its banks.
“We go over there sometimes and look for turtles and stuff, but as far as swimming in the water, I can tell you it’s never crossed my kids’ minds,” she said. “They know better.”
“We all tell our kids not to go down there,” she said, “but kids are kids, and if they get hot and they’re by the water, they’re going to jump in.”
What makes the situation more aggravating for the neighborhood, Muntz said, is that the baseball fields there get plenty of attention and are always busy in the summer.
“They bring in money from that, but none of it goes to the pool,” she said.
Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith agreed with area residents that the city needs to work with other community partners to provide recreational opportunities for neighborhoods.
“The city partnership with the YMCA and the board at the Booker T. Washington Community Center in our Second Ward is a good example of a recent accomplishment in collaboration for the betterment of a neighborhood,” Smith said. “I would like to be able to do something in Lindenwald, East End and the North End in terms of expanding recreational opportunities, possibly splash parks or spray areas. These would be zero-depth water play and would have no admission charge.”
Smith called Allen’s death “a very tragic event.”
“The city will be reviewing safety standards in this general area and will see if it can identify ideas that will help prevent this type of tragedy in the future,” he said.
Alison Holmes Gettler said that she grew up in the North End and her parents “put the fear of God in us about the canal,” so much so that while she would stand in the grass on Derexa Drive and look at it, she’s never actually stood on the banks.
“Too scary,” she said.
She still has family living in Fordson Heights, and her nephews will go to a creek near Grove Terrace to splash around, but it tends to dry up completely in the summer.
Hamilton residents say that the closing of the city’s pools have caused problems deeper than children swimming in dangerous places, however.
Since 1960, Emma Wyatt has lived on Clearview Place just a block or so from the site of the former Eastview Pool, which the city closed and traded properties with the Hamilton City School District to build Crawford Woods Elementary School.
“I used to be able to leave my doors unlocked all the time,” she said. “But now I won’t even leave it unlocked if I’m inside.
“We fought and fought to keep that pool open,” she said, “so now what’s left for the children in this town to do? Nothing.”
“There’s nothing going to the upkeep of the parks,” she said, referring specifically to the nearby Crawford Woods Park. “All you see is a bunch of needles laying around.”
“It just makes me mad that we lost a child from something that could have been prevented if there was someplace for these kids to go,” she said.
By Richard Jones - Hamilton JournalNews, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 the Hamilton JournalNews (Hamilton, Ohio)
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