Feature Article - April 2010
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Puddle Jumping

Quick, Easy Aquatic Fun

By Stacy St. Clair

ity officials in Fort Wayne, Ind., wanted a fun, cost-effective alternative to an aquatic center—a place where families could spend time together without saddling the city's parks and recreation department with staffing expenses and other major overhead.

The answer: spraygrounds.

The first sprayground in Fort Wayne was built in 2002 at Memorial Park, a 42-acre site popular with families and nature enthusiasts. With its colorful array of water features and play equipment, the sprayground was an instant success.

"The kids definitely love it," said Natalie Eggeman, spokeswoman for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department. "It's always packed, which shows how popular it is."

The Memorial Park proved so popular, in fact, that the city has added five more spraygrounds in recent years since it was opened. The newest is in Buckner Park, an area designed to allow city dwellers to escape the everyday hustle and bustle and commune with nature. Surrounded by wetlands and walking trails, the new sprayground maintains the "nature" theme with water features shaped like frogs and cattails.

In the summer months, city officials now drive by and marvel at how busy the spraygrounds are. They enjoy seeing mothers sitting nearby and enjoying the outdoors more than they would at a local aquatic center. Without worrying about kids getting lost on a crowded pool deck or something horrible happening in the water, the sprayground experience seems less stressful.

"There are a lot of moms with little ones who can just take out their lawn chairs and relax a little more because they don't have to worry about them drowning," Eggeman said. "The worst thing they have to worry about is somebody falling."

Eggeman speaks wistfully about the family fun, a small part of her lamenting that Fort Wayne did not have the six splashpads when her children were younger. She particularly admires the sprayground at Robert E. Meyers Park, which is located within a ballpark and allows spectators to splash around while attending a game.

"It's so big and they can just run around while you watch them," she said. "It appeals to kids of all ages, so you can bring all of your children and they will all definitely be entertained. There's something for everybody."

And therein lies the sprayground's greatest asset. In addition to serving as a lifesaver for communities struggling to provide aquatic facilities to their residents, these splash play areas offer an environmentally friendly, accessible and much-loved recreation option. There is something for everybody, a fact made even more evident as spraygrounds become commonplace in North American parks.

Eco-enthusiasts, for example, love their green features. The Fort Wayne splash areas are touch activated. To turn the water on, patrons look for a short pole with a plastic dome top located within the play area. They place their hands on the dome for a few seconds, until the water shortly appears and runs for several minutes. When the water stops, they repeat the procedure so the fun can continue.

"They're very green," Eggeman said. "People can turn them on and they automatically stop on their own so that water isn't being used unnecessarily."