WATERTOWN, SD (KELO) — In the heat of summer, people in Watertown are grateful for an outdoor oasis along the city’s bike and walking trail. How the Watertown bike trail water cooler got its start and just how many people are helping to pay it forward, in tonight’s Positively KELOLAND.
“When I first saw it I thought, is this for real?” Watertown walker Lynn Langner said.
It’s not too often you see a sign for something free right where you need it most.
“I can’t believe this is really what it is,” Langner said. “It’s ice cold, it’s always ice cold.”
But over the past four summers, people in Watertown have come to rely on a cooler of free water along a quiet stretch of the bike trail.
“On June 12th of this year, we put in the 100th case of water,” the water cooler guy Earl Baumgarn said.
The water cooler is a passion project for Earl Baumgarn after experiencing his own serious case of dehydration.
“I ended up spending the night at the hospital getting fluids, the next day I’m sitting out here relaxing and people are going by and I noticed that nobody’s got any water with them, so, the cooler was born,” Baumgarn said.
The trail goes on for miles in Watertown; it’s why Earl wants to make sure that everyone walking or biking along the trail stays safe, especially in the summer heat.
“I think it’s nice and I like where he can help people, where if people are working really hard on their bike they can stop and get a cool drink,” 11-year-old walker Tai Le said.
Earl’s cooler is also stocked with juice boxes for the kids thanks to the community’s help.
“It’s all donated, all of it, even the ice,” Baumgarn said. “People have left money in the cooler, on top of the cooler…the County Fair showed up with 12 cases of water someone had bought and had it delivered, no names or anything, just out of the blue there’s 12 cases of water.”
It’s become a community project…
“He’s the cooler man,” Watertown resident Lynette McFarland said.
…made all the more special by the man keeping the free pit stop well stocked all summer long.
For Earl, the watercooler has become his job during retirement.
“That and the neighborhood watch,” Baumgarn said.
Most days you can find Earl outside watching the cooler and keeping track of how many people stop by.
“People come across the road and visit or they wave, and you get to know them that way, it’s enjoyable,” Baumgarn said.
The 73-year-old retiree is providing much more than just an ice-cold drink to the people who cross his path.
“The best part is when you get the water the gentleman is always sitting there and he always waves and it just makes my day,” Langner said.
Over the past four summers, he’s stocked the cooler with more than 123 cases of bottled water and 100 juice boxes, something he plans to continue every summer as long as his health holds up.