With 23 outdoor pools -- not to mention indoor pools, wading pools and spas -- the fact of summer life in Columbia is simple: "The pools are the hubs of the neighborhoods," said Columbia Association aquatics director John Herdson.
The outdoor pools get an average of 600,000 visits a summer. For many of Columbia's 90,000 residents, summer days ebb and flow according to the pool schedule.
For 300 lifeguards, swim instructors and other staff members, the pools offer sun-drenched outdoor work. For everyone else, they provide a respite in the heart of summer. From the minute the gates swing open in the mornings, tots in rubber flip-flops head for swimming lessons or a splash in the baby pools with adults in tow.
Then there are the neighborhood swim leagues with 14 teams in all and hordes of young athletes trying to improve their times. Parent volunteers are busy on the sidelines, organizing and networking, their eyes on the climactic community-wide swim meet July 31.
"The next day, there seems to be an exodus out of Columbia," Herdson said. "Many parents wait until the final swim meet to go out of town."
As afternoons turn into evenings, even the adults might get in a few laps, to say nothing of long chats in the poolside lounge chairs.
"Besides going swimming, you meet neighbors and friends," Herdson said, "and make lasting relationships."