Feature Article - April 2009
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Splashing Around

The Backyard Sprinkler Goes High-Tech

By Dawn Klingensmith


he popularity of spray parks—also called spraygrounds or splash pads—has exploded in the past decade, and not just because they're proven kid-pleasers. Parks and recreation departments have found that spray parks are cost-effective alternatives to pools. Cheaper to install, operate and maintain, spraygrounds cost less than pools initially, as well as in the long run. They generally have no standing water (it drains away without accumulating), so lifeguard supervision isn't needed. They have longer operating seasons than pools, are accessible and can be automated or manually activated by users.

The spray park concept is evolving, though. Take a look at some of the newer facilities across the country, and you'll see that spray-park design has reached new highs—and new lows.

We mean that in the literal sense.

Traditionally, spray parks have been flat surfaces with freestanding, interactive spray features. Now, spray parks often are stripped down to just ground sprays, or they incorporate climbable, multilevel play features from which children can blast water canons or go down slides. Waterfalls can cascade from these upper decks, adding visual appeal and another opportunity to get wet.

At the same time, "one of the trends we're seeing is making the splash-pad area a multiuse space, so the design consists of nozzles flush to the ground that can be turned off, and then the space can be used for concerts, farmers' markets or other events," said Tom Anderson, president of Water Design Inc. in Salt Lake City. His firm currently is bidding on a project of this type in an amphitheater setting. The play area will become a stage for evening performances when the water is turned off.

Another paradox in the way splash pads are evolving has to do with water output. While it's mostly the case that parks and recreation departments are demanding more splash for their cash, others need a scaled-back version of a splash pad intended for all ages. One aquatic structures manufacturer, based in Quebec, offers a line of spray features that use light mists and gentle, directional water streams. Preset controls limit their dispersion, preventing water from reaching bystanders and keeping users relatively dry. These spray features "can be enjoyed wearing street clothes in areas such as public squares, neighborhood parks, plazas, esplanades, zoos and amusements parks," said John Mejia, the company's marketing coordinator.

The product line "is designed to offer an experience that allows participants to come into contact with water in their street clothes, cool down, yet remain relatively dry," he added. "It's ideal for public spaces where people may not be in bathing suits."