Feature Article - April 2009
Find a printable version here

Splashing Around

The Backyard Sprinkler Goes High-Tech

By Dawn Klingensmith

The Family That Sprays Together...

Zoning spray parks for different age groups started out as a trend and is now an established design principle. "What we've found is that young children get intimidated by the spray features that attract preteens and teens," Anderson said.

He and other experts recommend creating sectors tailored to specific age groups.

A toddler zone can feature ground sprays and other non-intimidating features that produce soft mists and gentle streams of water. A zone for older kids, whose play style is naturally more robust, should be centered on high-energy activities with components that encourage competition and teamwork. A family-fun sector transitioning between the two other zones should encourage social interaction and imaginative, cross-generational play.

No matter the zone, spray features should be adequately spaced so kids don't smack into them or each other. Especially with components that rotate or swing around, such as certain shooting devices, make sure there's adequate clearance and the barrels aren't too long.

One manufacturer's representative said he has witnessed incidents in which a bigger kid swings a barrel around and accidentally knocks down a younger kid.

Jurisdictions have different codes, but the rule of thumb for determining spray park capacity is to allow 15 to 20 square feet per user, Anderson said.

One way to appeal to the entire family—and indeed to adults in general—without diminishing a child's sense of awe and adventure is to evolve the spray park concept into an interactive fountain meant to be admired as an art form as well as played in. Anderson's Salt Lake City-based company, Water Design Inc., designed such a fountain for Lagoon, an amusement park in nearby Farmington, Utah. The multimillion-dollar water feature serves as both a children's aquatic play space and a sophisticated adult spectacle. Seventy-six jet nozzles and 68 "leaping water" nozzles, all flush to the ground, create a series of "water cages" with a 35-foot vertical spray element at their center. The water events are dynamic, progressing through a sequence of different spray effects, during which patrons can frolic in the fountain. Once an hour, the area is cordoned, and the fountain puts on a water-and-light show.

"The nozzles shoot much higher and there's lighting involved so it becomes more of a spectator thing than an interactive thing," Anderson said.

The Chilton (Wis.) Parks and Recreation Department also evolved the concept of spray parks with year-round functionality in mind. Their spray park features removable above-ground spray features that are taken down and stored in wintertime. Underground spouts are then capped, waterlines are drained and the area is frozen over and used as an ice skating rink.