A map of Alaska with the Southeast region highlighted.
Organization: City of Petersburg
City: Petersburg
Region: Southeast
Program Area: Arts, Culture, Humanities \ Library
Grants Received:
2014: $19,450  2007: $24,261
2013: $12,000  2005: $1,201,003
2011: $516,490  2004: $15,100
2009: $10,000

Time for the escape to the water world

Mission Statement
Petersburg Aquatic Center

Within the community's education, safety, and recreational objectives, to provide a facility for healthy recreation, broaden the school district's physical education program, to provide a training facility for competitive swim teams, and to teach swimming and survival skills to all ages so that residents are better prepared to live near the water that surrounds Mitkof Island.
It's a frosty clear morning as I head to the pool. The sun shines on the stained glass over the doorways. I see a school of salmon swimming through green waters. I'm pulled inside by the swirling motion of a tiderip painting of seaweed and bulb kelp. Ah yes, time for the escape to the water world.

The warming pool is filled with kids going down the water slide. A few fishermen are heading over to loosen up their bones in the sauna.

It is seven o'clock, and the Petersburg Aquatic Center is in full swing. I slip in the pool to start my laps. Breathe in, breathe out, and feel the quiet place of the water world. There's that feeling of fluidity, weightlessness and freedom. I am a floating feather, not bound by gravity, with limitless possibilities. I swim and swim, letting all busy thoughts go, until there is just my breathing in and out to the rhythm of long strokes.

A photo of children walking around the Petersburg Aquatic Center.Spacer Image

I take a rest and float on my back a while, grabbing a glance at the huge mural stretching the length of the lap pool. Blue panels of whales with their babies, twisting humpbacks, orcas, dolphins and halibut. It reminds me of a presentation the other night by whale biologist Dr. Fred Sharpe. He attached a "critter cam" to the back of a baby whale in Frederick Sound, showing the under water world through its eyes. The calf was directly under a circle of bubble-feeding whales. We watched as one humpback encircled a frantic ball of herring with a spiraling string of bubbles. The others blared out a feeding call to scare their prey to the surface and the whole group lunged up through their meal, mouths full of Frederick Sound fish. This biologically un-related group of whales bands together as a team to help each other gather food and drive fish down to nourish their young. Floating on my back and taking in their painted blue counterparts in our pool, I think about how our town pulled together to protect and guide our young by building this incredible aquatic center. We live in a fishing town and it is very important that the kids know how to swim. Maybe their pool survival suit training will give them a fighting chance when something goes wrong crabbing in Frederick Sound in an October storm.

A photo of children playing in the Petersburg Aquatic Center pool.Spacer Image The lifeguard blows the whistle and it's time to get out. As we put on our shoes, I look around at all the faces the Coast Guard family with the two young boys who had been paddling about with the funny arm floaties, the babies and parents, the 13-year-olds with so much to say, the shy boys with the puka shell necklaces, the devoted grandparents sitting in the hot tub.

This is what our community looks like. We are here, visiting, swimming, feeding our minds on the artwork and letting go of our worries. I hope to hold onto this feeling of peace until my next visit to the pool, actually, so much more than a pool, The Petersburg Aquatic Center.

Heidi Lee was born and raised in Petersburg, Alaska in a Norwegian/ Swedish second generation immigrant family. She has been or still is, an oral historian, gillnet hanger, photographer, mother, Scandinavian dance teacher, and the unofficial greeter at her family's store, Lee's Clothing. She feels lucky to live at the mouth of Wrangell Narrows where it meets Frederick Sound, where she gazes on the water traffic and gets thoughts from the universe.