Columbia Association | Columbia, Md.
Columbia Association Columbia Association | Columbia, Md.

Goals and challenges

If there is such thing as a swimmable city, it is Columbia, Md. Officials with the Columbia Association, a nonprofit service corporation managing this planned community of approximately 100,000, has good reason to believe that this township might have one of the highest concentrations of swimming pools in the nation.

One of the largest homeowner associations in the country, Columbia was founded in 1967 by real-estate magnate James Rouse, who insisted each neighborhood have its own pool. That makes for a total of 28 pools in the 14,000-acre community.

Providing programing for each pool is made all the more challenging because this is a community that takes swimming seriously. Managers must balance the needs of dedicated lap swimmers with those of more casual pool-goers.

How they did it

To provide for Columbia’s competitive spirit, the association organizes a yearly biathlon that challenges participants to ride their bikes to all 23 outdoor pools (that’s 45 miles) and take a lap in each, plus take a trip down a water slide where there is one. Pedal & Paddle, which attracts about 100 participants, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

Columbia also boasts 2,600 swimmers who participate in 14 neighborhood swim leagues that compete against each other; a year-round USA Swimming club for 5- to 18-year-olds, called The Clippers, which competes nationally; and a popular U.S. Masters Swimming program for adults.

A community advisory committee sees to it that the competitions do not crowd out others who want to enjoy the pool. There are plenty of opportunities for other recreational activities, such as swim and scuba lessons, and aqua-fit sessions, among others.

Such an array of services catering to a diverse swimming population works to the benefit of operators. Officials say the slate of activities serves as a sort of feeder program that rears up competent lifeguards who one day end up working for the association. For example, it’s not uncommon for a child to begin with lessons and then advance to a neighborhood swim league, the top tier of which graduate to The Clippers. Some of those kids end up taking an interest in lifeguarding and can start learning lifesaving skills as young as 13 through the association’s Junior Lifeguarding program. The program generally attracts 40 to 50 guards-in-the-making, a good majority of whom go on to become full-fledged lifeguards when they turn 15.

“It’s a huge recruitment program for us,” said John Herdson, director of aquatics.

Indeed, when you have to hire some 450 guards each season, every little bit counts.


  • This planned community arguably has more access to swimming pools than any of its size.
  • It's a competitive community, boasting 14 neighborhood swim leagues, a USA Swimming club and a Masters Swimming program.
  • An annual biathlon challenges residents to bike to all 23 outdoor pools and do a lap.