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For decades, people have been swimming across Walden Pond, even though it was actually not allowed. Now, state officials say they are going to authorize open-water swimming there — a first at state parks in Massachusetts — as long as people follow some rules.

The rules were drafted in part by open-water swimmers who frequent the pond and aim to make it safer, said Priscilla Geigis, director of state parks for the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“Open-water swimming is an inherently dangerous activity, but we understand that people make their own decisions,” Geigis said.

The goals of the new rules are “managing swimming as a recreational activity at Walden Pond and balancing it with other recreational activities, mainly boating.”


Geigis acknowledged that open-water swimming is already a popular activity at Walden.

In an effort to make the pond safer for swimmers and boaters alike, DCR held meetings this summer with swimmers, boaters, and fishermen to draft a set of rules, a set of best practices, and a swimming self-assessment.

Public safety officials were also involved in the process, Geigis said, and the Walden Pond Advisory Board approved the draft after it was finished.

“People always say, ‘If I couldn’t swim in Walden, I would die!’ and they mean it,” said Linda Allen, a member of the Walden Pond Advisory Board and a recreational open-water swimmer who played a role in forming the rules.

“First of all, everything has been clarified instead of whispered about or disregarded,” she said. “The clarification and the change in the way the pond has been marked enables everyone to be very clear about where swimming is safe.”

The seven proposed rules include a ban on open-water swimmers from coming within 100 feet of the boat launch area and other designated swim spots. Open-water swimmers would also be required to obey lifeguards who are stationed at the pond from May to September.


Triathlete Al Prescott, treasurer for the New England chapter of the nonprofit US Masters Swimming, said he felt the best practices and self-assessment would help lifeguards know which swimmers were their responsibility and would also help swimmers understand the risks they are undertaking.

“Now everybody knows what their role in the pond is,” Prescott said.

The best practices laid out by DCR are more like guidelines that would act as reminders to keep swimmers safe, Geigis said, such as swimming with a brightly colored swim cap to be more visible to boaters and other swimmers.

Also being proposed is a swimming self-assessment, full of questions swimmers can ask themselves to determine if they will be safe in open water, such as “Can I swim two or more laps in a conventional swimming pool without stopping?”

Allen and Prescott said they did not feel that the rules limited their swimming freedom.

“I think now people really understand what DCR needs and vice versa. And I think that could have happened a lot earlier, but at least it happened,” said Allen.

“I feel as though it’s a miracle.”

The new rules were to be presented to the public Tuesday night in Concord. DCR will collect public input through Nov. 21 before open-water swimming is authorized and the rules go into effect.

Tuesday’s presentation will be available after the meeting online at mass.gov. Comments can be sent to dcr.updates@state.ma.us with “Walden Open Water Swimming” in the subject line.


Globe correspondent Melissa Hanson contributed to this report. Kiera Blessing can be reached at kiera.blessing