Heroes

This public pool is completely chlorine-free. It's also the first of its kind in the U.S.

Yep, the water's green. That's exactly what makes it so awesome.

For a long time, there were only two ways to access a "naturally filtered" pool: live in Europe or open up your wallet.

A gorgeous natural swimming pool in Austria. Photo by Peter Thomas/Flickr.


Natural pools are miraculous, gorgeous creations that use plant life, rocks, and other biological filters to eliminate the need for cleansing chemicals.

They're clean, they're safe, and they're absolutely beautiful.

These natural pools have been big in Europe for a couple of decades now, with the first ones popping up in Austria and Germany in the 1980s. In the years since, they've seen a rapid increase in numbers. Today there are over 20,000 natural pools in Europe, including plenty open to the general public.

A naturally filtered pool at a hotel in the U.K. Photo by Matt Taylor/Flickr.

For those of us in the States, however, natural pools are much harder to come by.

Having any kind of pool built from scratch in your own backyard comes with a hefty price tag, and not a lot of homes in America come with a pre-built private, natural pool.

When it comes to public pools, there are lots of strict state-mandated regulations around the use of chemicals for bacteria, so natural pools just haven't been an option for most communities.

A private natural pool built for a homeowner in Maryland. Jealous? Photo by Maryland Pools/Flickr.

That's why most of us have been stuck wading in pale blue, chlorinated waters for as long as we can remember.

But that all changed recently — if you live in Minneapolis.

This summer, Minneapolis opened the first all-natural, chlorine-free public swimming pool in the U.S.

It's called the Webber natural pool, and the project has taken over four years and $6 million of funding, not to mention the numerous legal hurdles and construction delays. But it has finally come to fruition.


This is no dinky pond. Check out all the features the pool supports with natural filtration. All photos of Webber pool courtesy of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

The pool opened in late July.

The swimming pool is on the left. That huge area on the right is filled with biological filters, plants, and gravel.

The Webber pool features a shallow end and a deep end — like any good pool — and it also features an even deeper jumping platform and lap swimming lanes. It holds over 500,000 gallons of water.

Every 12 hours, the entire half-million gallon pool slowly drains in and out of what's called a "regeneration basin" filled with over 7,000 different aquatic plants rooted in gravel and limestone. The plants consume some of the bacteria and nutrients — the ones you wouldn't want getting in your eyes — for growth, while the rest clings to the gravel.

Simple vacuums finish the job by keeping the actual pool surface clean, no chemicals required.


It's not just the cleaning mechanisms that make this natural pool so appealing. In a lot of ways, the Webber pool is more like a lake than a pool, with live turtles and frogs populating the water, along with some algae to keep the ecosystem strong. The pool is also surrounded by as much grass and greenery as possible.

All in the name of a truly natural experience.

The Webber pool is a great start, but we need more like it.

There are about 4,000-5,000 emergency room visits related to pool chemicals every year, with most of those being children and teens. There are also environmental concerns around the use and disposal of harsh pool chemicals.

"We have a responsibility to be good stewards of public land and public water. It's consistent with our mission," Jayne Miller, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board told Upworthy. Just a hunch, but maybe that attitude is why Minneapolis Parks and Rec has been rated the #1 parks system in the U.S. for the past three years by The Trust for Public Land.

"We have a responsibility to be good stewards of public land and public water. It's consistent with our mission."

As for why other communities haven't yet followed suit?

Miller said, "You do something new and innovative like this, there are risks. ... But we're getting a ton of coverage on this nationally, and a lot of people are paying attention. I suspect this will be the beginning of many more natural pools in the U.S."

With Minneapolis paving the way, hopefully we'll see more natural public pools springing up in the years to come.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Tiffany Paskas and Megan Stortz, aka the Moms of Tampa, weren’t always the best friends that they are now. The unique story of how they became that way is catching a lot of positive attention and shining a light on how we might rethink co-parenting dynamics after divorce.

Stortz and her ex-husband Mike (married now to Paskas) share custody of their 11-year old son, Michael. At first, like many moms and stepmoms, Stortz and Paskas never spoke to one another.

Paskas explained to local NBC affiliate WFLA, “We just didn’t know it was okay to talk. We were under the impression, being children of divorce, that the ex and the new never intermingle, so it was like, best to stay away. So that’s kind of how we dealt with the first four years.”
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