Feature Article - September 2004
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Water 101

Tips for squeezing every last drop of success out of your waterpark and splash play area

By Stacy St. Clair

Making a splash

Can't afford a multimillion dollar waterpark? No need to drown your sorrows.

A growing number of communities have turned to splash play areas to give their patrons wet-and-wild fun without breaking the bank.

Several years ago, officials in Omaha, Neb., grappled with their outdated community pools. The facilities were poorly attended, expensive to maintain and required a lot of supervision.

They wanted something that would attract patrons and have longer operational hours. At the same time, they wanted a facility that would require minimal staffing and not cost millions of dollars.

Officials opted to build a splash play area in Upland Park. The results were immediate, with a 412 percent increase in park attendance. The attraction draws 7,500 additional users to the park each year.

The city was so thrilled with the results, they began planning another splash area in Orchard Park. The attraction is now part of a park that includes a dry playground and basketball courts.

If Omaha officials ever question their decision, they just need to look at the numbers. The Orchard Park's previous pool attracted 3,500 patrons each year. Its attendance has doubled since the splash play area was installed.

"There are always kids playing in them when I drive by, and the numbers pretty much tell me the whole successful story," says Omaha park planner Pat Slaven.

The Buffalo Grove, Ill., Park District is primed to enjoy similar success. After voters repeatedly refused to fund an aquatic center, officials decide to build a splash play area for kids.

One of the largest facilities of its kind, it features more than 20 water toys, sprays and fountains. It opened in June to sell-out crowds.

It accomplished an important goal of giving district residents another aquatic option. Without it, they would have to turn to other communities to have their recreation needs met.

"It has been very well-received," says Lori Magee, district spokeswoman. "We're meeting a need and keeping residents in Buffalo Grove."

The water playground has been so successful, officials have been able to rent it out for birthday parties and other special occasions. The money will be an additional way to bring revenue to a facility that already was expected to pay for itself.

"We feel like we made a very good decision," Magee says.