Feature Article - April 2009
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Splashing Around

The Backyard Sprinkler Goes High-Tech

By Dawn Klingensmith

Spray Park Trends
  • Incorporating more shade structures, including two-in-one "spray and shade" features.
  • Advanced controls and valves allow for more interactivity and cause-and-effect demonstrations.
  • Zoning for different age groups.
  • Incorporating climbing structures and slides.
  • Integrating sound and lighting.
  • Designing for multiple uses.

From the Ground Up

Choosing a non-skid spray park surface is as important as selecting the water toys.

"Surfacing has advanced significantly to be more visually exciting, provide protection for patrons and resist particulate buildup, which could lead to clogs or bacteria formation," said James H. Cox, president and CEO of an Ashland, Ohio-based aquatic structures manufacturer.

Some local health departments have code specifications for swimming pool decks that are applicable to spray parks. As a general rule, surfaces should be nonporous to prevent mold or bacteria from building up and slip-resistant to prevent skinned knees. Broom-finished concrete is the most widely used spray-park surface. It's the least expensive option and is easy to clean, and colorizing, stamping or acid etching can enhance its appearance and tie it in with an overall theme.

To provide further slip resistance, "Some manufacturers broadcast sand into it, so it's almost like sandpaper," Mendioroz said.

Two spray parks operated by the city of Wichita, Kan., have concrete surfaces painted with world maps. Though presumably not the city's intent, this offers a plus side if kids slip and fall—they get a "crash course" in geography.

Rubberized surfaces, though popular, are thought by some experts to provide a false sense of security; plus, they cost more to maintain and are difficult to clean.

"Kids know when they're on concrete that if they fall down, they're going to hurt themselves, and they tend to slow down," Mendioroz said.

While water toys are becoming increasingly sophisticated, the simplest elements, including nozzles embedded in the ground, often prove to be the most popular. Water cannons and dump buckets are perennial kid pleasers, but any above-ground elements should be designed around an assortment of ground sprays.

"You always want to make sure you have water squirting up right out of the ground," McElyea said. "I would not design a spray park where it didn't have water coming out from deck elevation because it's the cheapest and easiest and appeals to all ages, even the littlest kids. If you go with all high-end components, you're going to miss a lot of the younger kids."

Ground sprays offer high play value and ensure that even crawlers and toddlers can engage with and influence the water events. Kids enjoy altering spray patterns by standing or sitting on the spray pods.

Plus, "Kids of all ages just love running through them," McElyea said.

Mushroom-, dome- or umbrella-shaped spray formations that kids can hide or huddle beneath are so popular that they're more or less ubiquitous, popping up in just about every spray park where kids are offered a chance to help choose components. Ground sprays create these magical "water rooms."