GLYNDON, Minn. — For the third straight year, one of the most popular swimming beaches in the Fargo-Moorhead area will be closed for the summer.
The sand-bottom swimming pond at Buffalo River State Park, 14 miles east of the metro area along U.S. Highway 10, will not open in 2021, a park official said.
Park Manager Brian Nelson said with some COVID-19 restrictions only recently lifted, time is too short to get the pond ready and to hire enough staff to operate it.
“We are sad not to have the pond open for this season but our plans are to reopen it again next year,” Nelson said in a statement.
He said another swimming pond at Flandrau State Park near New Ulm, Minn., will also remain closed this summer.
The pond near Glyndon is typically filled in early summer with Buffalo River water that's filtered and treated for swimming, then drained in late summer.
However, the pond hasn’t had water in it since 2018, the year a 9-year-old girl from Moorhead drowned there.
Grace Bettie died on June 27 as she took part in a Moorhead Police Department summer youth program outing. She was pulled unresponsive from the water just after 4 p.m. that day, and lifesaving efforts at the scene were not successful.
The pond was closed for several days afterward, while the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offered counseling for park staff and lifeguards who were on duty.
The pond did not open the following summer, in 2019, after the DNR struggled to hire enough lifeguards to staff it. A minimum of six lifeguards were needed and the DNR was only able to hire two.
Like many public facilities, the pond remained closed in 2020 due to the continued circulation of the coronavirus.
In October 2018, Clay County prosecutors released a memo saying no criminal charges would be filed in connection with Bettie's death. Some witnesses at the park that day said some adult supervisors weren't keeping a close enough eye on children in the water, which was crowded with swimmers.
Bettie’s family went forward with a wrongful death civil lawsuit against the state of Minnesota, which owns the park, and the city of Moorhead, which sponsored the outing.
Both entities asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed based on recreational-use immunity grounds. But in February of this year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that portions of the lawsuit could go forward against the city and state. The case is still pending.