Once Largest Outdoor Pool In The World, Buffalo’s 1 Million Gallon Pool Charged Fees For First Time

At one time, Buffalo's outdoor pool, which holds 1 million gallons of water, was the largest outdoor pool in the world. Upkeep is expensive and, for the first time, entrance fees are being assessed.

Wendy Corr

April 17, 20223 min read

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A Buffalo swimming pool that once held the distinction of being the largest free outdoor pool in the world is getting some much needed financial help.

Buffalo officials have decided to charge an admission for the first time in the pool’s almost 100-year history, raising money for needed maintenance and new attractions.

A Civilian Conservation Corp project during the Depression, the giant swimming pool in Buffalo’s city park touted itself for many years as the largest outdoor free pool in the world. At 393 feet by 262 feet, the pool holds more than 1 million gallons of water and is fed by the cold mountain waters of Clear Creek.

The Buffalo pool is no longer the world’s largest. That distinction goes to the pool at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Chile, which is more than one-half mile long, covers 19 acres and hold 66 million gallons of seawater. However, the Buffalo pool is still definitely one of the largest in the country.

The centerpiece of Buffalo’s Washington Park, the huge swimming pool started out as a swimming hole in the late 1890s, soon after the town itself was founded. It was formally established as the city pool in 1922, becoming a Works Progress Administration project in 1935. 

Historic photos of the town show divers jumping from a platform near log-cabin bathhouses. The boathouses received a big upgrade in the 1980s, when the gravel bottom of the pool was finished with concrete.

While admission has been free since the pool first opened, rising costs and deteriorating infrastructure have caused city leaders to reconsider.

“It was always touted as a free pool,” said Travis Lawrence, who sits on the Buffalo Outdoor Pool Board. 

But last year, city leaders recognized that costs to operate the pool were becoming more than the city could fund.

“We rely on the city to do essential services that they have to provide, where, you know, a pool is a 100% luxury item,” Lawrence said. “So, if you’re sitting in the mayor and council’s shoes, and money’s tight, it might be awfully difficult to justify spending money on a luxury item.”

So the Pool Board, along with the Buffalo City Council, determined a $3 admission fee was fair (with free entrance for kids under 3 and seniors over 65, as well as veterans), and would bring in enough to meet the financial needs to keep the pool afloat. 

That change was made this past summer, and to the delight of city officials, the summer of 2021 was the pool’s biggest year ever. Lawrence said that the first summer of an admission fee resulted in close to $39,000 in revenue for the city.

“We implemented an admission fee and talked the city into doing two things with that admissions fee – (one was that) 50% of what was earned would be reinvested in the pool in the form of capital improvements,” said Lawrence.

The board has already put the money to use, with plans to install a new double slide and offer wireless internet service to users – and hopefully, constructing three cabanas, according to Lawrence.

“Obviously we wish we would have started saving for its future 35, 40 years ago, when the gravel bottom got concreted,” Lawrence noted.

This summer, Lawrence said the pool is scheduled to open on June 10 and remain open through the end of August.

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Wendy Corr

Features Reporter