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Fun on the Water

Water-Based Entertainment Adds Revenue, Builds Community


Natural waterfronts across the nation are broadening their appeal with water-based family entertainment centers, or WBFECs—a move that has not only added revenue, but also has helped enhance the communities surrounding these natural resources.

"Waterfront assets are often the most valuable areas of a property, and developing them into WBFECs is the best way for owners to leverage those assets," said Ron Romens, president of Commercial Recreation Specialists (CRS), a company that specializes in waterfront development and pioneered the WBFEC concept. "A combination of inflatable water-based play, beachfront seating and shade provides an immediate 'wow' factor and also offers the greatest dividends for the fewest dollars."

These WBFECs are the latest trend for small- to medium-sized waterfronts and municipal recreation areas that may have lost some of their appeal to nearby waterparks or other more exciting competition for family time. The goal of a WBFEC is to create a destination that is both fun and comfortable for the whole family, while staying within the owners' budget constraints.

Colorful modular inflatables and other highly visible amenities are the main attractions at these facilities, and, in turn, they feed other revenue-bearing amenities such as boat rentals and concessions. As a result, waterfronts that had lost their appeal become important assets once again.

Transforming the 'Mud Hole'

Troll Beach in Stoughton, Wis., is a prime example of such revitalization. This small-town community won the 2012 Wisconsin Parks and Recreation Association (WPRA) Outstanding Aquatics Facility Design Award for its transformed natural beach.

Just a few years ago, Stoughton's swimming pond was a declining "mud hole," as area locals affectionately named it. Competition from large regional waterparks left little interest for what was once the community's prized aquatic recreation facility. An inflatable challenge course, set up for a free community fun day, changed all of that.

"The people just loved it," said Tom Lynch, recreational director for the city of Stoughton. "We were able to see what this would be like if we purchased the inflatables. We used this to help us pass our budget."

Park officials also added other amenities, including shade structures, lounges and a concession stand, making Troll Beach an appealing destination for locals and out-of-towners alike.

The result?

"Within one summer, we doubled our attendance and quadrupled our revenues," Lynch said.

Bring on the Action

At Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Eufaula, Okla., a WBFEC targets families with children up to 13 years old. In 2009, this Jellystone purchased its first CRS inflatable, the Aquaglide Summit Express. It proved to be so popular that new pieces have been added every year since.

"We initially thought about adding a waterpark," said Al Sahli, owner of the campground. "But since we have shoreline on Lake Eufaula, which is the largest in Oklahoma, we decided to emphasize that."

As much as people enjoy the natural elements of sand and water, Sahli believes they also are looking for more action. They enjoy the fun and excitement the water inflatables, boat rentals and other water activities provide.

"Our guests come back every year and expect to see new inflatable pieces," Sahli said. "Since we started our business in 2008, we've actually doubles our attendance. Last summer we had 25,000 guests."