Feature Article - September 2003
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Theme Schemes

Creative motifs and clever theming give waterparks and splash play areas new depth

By Stacy St. Clair

City and park officials in Joliet, Ill., also insisted on building a waterpark that reflected their city's proud heritage. They began planning the facility about 10 years ago on a site that was once home to a massive quarry operation from the 1930s through 1950s.

The park itself sits on a railroad line that transported gravel from the quarry to the processing area. Once processed, the gravel was shipped all over the world.

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Decades later, the owners of the local riverboat casino purchased the land and donated 20 acres to the community for recreation purposes. Officials decided to build a waterpark and named it Splash Station in homage to the land's former function. The railroad theme runs through the entire facility, including a park logo that features an old-fashioned locomotive with waves cresting on either side of the cowcatcher.

The entrance—where patrons purchase "boarding passes" instead of paying simple admission—is designed to look like an old depot. The light fixtures are replicated rail yard lamps. Imitation roundhouses serve as concession stands, and all the rides have train-themed names such as body slide called The Rattler and a sand play area dubbed Tumbleweed Pass.

The facility's main attraction is Miner's Mountain, the only six-person racing slide in the Midwest. The slide, which allows patrons to compete against friends to see who can get to the bottom the fastest, mimics the old mining trains once used to carry coal from the mountains.

The features helped the fledgling Splash Station, which opened in August 2002, establish an identity in a crowded market, says Dominic Egizio, director of revenue facilities for the Joliet Park District. It wasn't just another a waterpark. It was the place with the trains and funky concession stand, the place where you race down the mountain.

Querbes/Airport Park in Shreveport, La.

"The theme definitely has given us a little advantage," he says. "It helps people relate to the park. We're hoping kids identify with it and say 'We want to go the park with the train.'"

The response has been extremely positive so far. In the park's first 20 days of operation, it attracted 22,000 people. Its patrons draw from a 50-mile radius, an impressive base given the recreation opportunities in the area.

Splash Station has even spawned several unofficial fan Web sites and has become popular enough for there to be a souvenir stand inside the park. Park officials currently are looking to purchase an old steam engine that would be placed on a bluff outside the facility to create a dramatic entrance. There are also plans to buy an old dining car that could be used for birthday parties.

In the city's past, it seems, the waterpark has found its future.

"We're very happy and excited about the park," Egizio says. "We have a lot of plans for the future."