Colorful Customizations for a Unique Splash Pad

Kinsmen Park Splash Pad is a unique, completely custom-manufactured splash pad located within Queen Elizabeth Park, in the heart of the Edmonton’s River Valley, on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. This highly visual waterpark is extremely colorful, with spray features uniquely designed and custom-manufactured to provide a nature and wildlife theme, reflecting the natural beauty surrounding the park. Visitors get a clear vision of the splash pad’s play area from the high-level bridge crossing the river, where elements such as bears and owls climbing water towers, and buckets designed to look like beehives dropping water on squealing children can all be seen. The customization of this splash pad is credited to attracting thousands of visitors from the community every summer.

Customization Meets Creativity

When the City of Edmonton embarked on this splash pad proposal, they worked with Park N Play Design consultants, a Canadian-based, national organization with offices throughout the country. Project leader Shelley Robinson, a certified inclusive playground designer, educator and self-proclaimed “playologist” at Park N Play Design, met with city representatives and suggested a custom-designed splash pad using animals, flowers and bugs to reflect the natural elements in the area.

“The client agreed immediately, so we worked closely with designers and artists to create a splash pad with fun, vibrant,children play on a splash pad nature themes, and made a one-of-a-kind splash pad experience at Queen Elizabeth Park,” said Robinson. “Our goal was to celebrate the river valley wildlife along the Saskatchewan River.”

Water Odyssey worked closely with Robinson and her team at Park N Play to design and create honey bears climbing poles, owls sitting on top of barrels, and fox and lynx heads that spray water in bright, fun colors to attract children of all ages.

“The city was very receptive to our concepts and Water Odyssey was a brilliant partner to work with,” said Robinson. “They have creative and talented artists who helped bring our ideas to life. Their design team was able to show us 3-D renderings and they were immediately approved.”

Some of the more notable features include a tall pole with an owl perched at the edge of the barrel. There is also a unique “Maypole,” which not only sprays water in ribbons, but also offers a spinning capacity where users can rotate the pole to create eye-catching water patterns. A particular custom “Maypole” spins 365 degrees and is topped with a honey bear that looks like it is climbing to the top, as if the bear were climbing a tree. The splash pad also offers a “spin and spill” water dumping feature, comprised of custom-designed beehive buckets that tip over as they fill with water.

Design Meets Inclusivity

The Kinsmen splash pad play area is roughly 93.75feet by 38.5feet in size and uses a recirculation tank because the city is conscientious about conserving its water resources. The splash pad itself provides 2,372 square feet of wet play area and recirculates 235 gallons of water per minute.

The splash pad is multigenerational and 100% inclusive for users of all ages. Users can crawl, walk, run or roll into the splash pad and engage in other forms of water play. Unlike many playground structures, this splash pad has no age restrictions. The entire design is meant to be entirely inclusive with age-appropriate play zones, and it meets all Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards.

Each zone flows into the next, increasing in water feature size, from smaller features to larger interactive water play. The nature-based theme of the water features is fun and reflects the uniqueness of the beauty along the river.

“As a ‘playologist,’ my goal is to create play, inspire movement, stretch muscles and get the giggles started,” Robinson said. “When I watch kids playing in this splash pad, I’m so pleased to watch them get so excited, trying to anticipate when the water will spray them or dump on them. The water features are all set to different sequencing patterns with controllers, so everything is a surprise for the kids. The water features we chose not only foster independent play, but also cooperative play—as kids invent games and work together to spin water features to make buckets dump more water, and create further excitement by running between the water features.”

The arrangement of play features in a splash pad is key to ensure those with developmental or cognitive limitations have areas within a splash pad to participate as well. A variety of sensory experiences build upon one another to make the facility more inclusive for those with such limitations.

Designers can create a sequence of features, starting with sensory exploration, with something as simple as a bubbler, and gradually move toward those with increased intensity­—drawing users into the splash pad. When done properly, this sequencing provides participants the opportunity to try something more powerful, such as an archway with spraying water, but it also allows them to quickly retreat to a less forceful water feature. Moving from one zone to another allows users to explore the area at their own pace.

Unlike playgrounds rated by suggested ages, it is important for splash pads to be defined by the intensity of their water features. For example, some children are not keen to get their head wet as it is a sensory experience, and this is not necessarily related to a specific age group. Cognitive and developmental stages indicate how each child develops their ability to process sensory experiences differently. It is important to have zones with lower water use that progress through a sequencing path, and move up toward more energetic features, such as dumping buckets. As a result, manufacturers of water features now offer product lines with different intensity levels and options to accommodate the overall size and plan of a splash pad for potential users.

Today, many elements are available to make play sequencing an engaging attraction. One can start with a range of bubblers and water-weaving features to create visually interesting patterns, drawing users into the splash pad without the fear of being confronted with a lot of water all at once.

In the case of the Kinsmen Park splash pad, the customized spray features are all based on standard play features, offering a variety of water intensity levels for a fully inclusive water play experience.

Sightlines, Supervision & Caretaker Comfort

In addition to the inclusive play elements incorporated into a splash pad, providing unobstructed sightlines across all areas is key for supervising children, especially those who might be experiencing physical, developmental or cognitive limitations.

Designers do not find large, solid elements to be an ideal choice for water play areas—features should be minimized, so they can limit the places where children can hide. A larger variety of these components encourages play, fun and exploration while cooling the skin and soothing the mind with different water sounds. An inclusive splash pad can make any park or community an attractive gathering space for all.

When designing facilities to include older generations, both the splash pad surface as well as the surrounding area need to be flat to accommodate the wheels of walkers and wheelchairs, and it should not have any irregular cross slopes either, for those with mobility and balance limitations.

“The surface must be slip-resistant, smooth, and flat. Older users are generally in a supervisory role and, therefore, it is important to provide comfortable areas for them to stand or sit and still be able to oversee children,” explained Robinson.  “Shaded seating and accessible routes to benches make a splash pad highly successful for caretakers, especially grandparents.”

Custom Play Brings Out the Community

A splash pad play area can become a gathering place for people of all abilities, ages and backgrounds to relax and connect through the joy of water. Having a custom-designed splash pad also invokes community pride and ownership. The naturally inclusive landscape of a splash pad not only offers a fun adventure for the community, but also satisfies their unique physical and cognitive needs. A simple but powerful space, an inclusive aquatic facility offers a glimpse of the larger picture of universal well-being and connectivity. A custom-designed splash pad gives local communities something to call their own, something to boast about and something to post about on social media as well.

The Kinsmen splash pad with its one-of-a-kind, custom-created water features gives this Edmonton park a unique visual appeal and reflects the natural beauty of its surrounding river valley. Splash pads such as Kinsmen offer a zero-depth aquatic solution, which takes its cue from nature by combining the sensations of different water movements—flowing, misting, jetting—and using it to create an uncompromising custom design for an unequalled play adventure.

About the Author
Chris Thomas is the director of marketing at Fountain People and Water Odyssey and has a decade of experience promoting the physical, mental and social benefits of water features and aquatic play. His background in marketing and communication design allows him to identify market needs, contribute to the aquatic community through product development to enhance the guest experience and discover design strategies that move child development forward.