Feature Article - April 2014
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Make a Splash

Spraygrounds Get (Even More) Creative

By Dawn Klingensmith

Nature Themes

One way to appeal to a broader demographic without diminishing a child's sense of awe and adventure is to opt for an interactive fountain that people of all ages can play in.

Because spray parks are often installed in public parks within natural or landscaped settings, park planners and landscape architects seek out elements that visually harmonize. Nature-themed product lines aren't new. Elements resembling tropical flora and garden-variety flowers are widely available, some with fancy features such as translucent, colored petals that create colored shadows.

Neilson's company just released a nature-themed product line to capitalize on the trend toward enabling more active play and getting kids out in nature. The idea is to create opportunities, even in urban environments, for kids to round the corner and find themselves "in a meadow of tall grass," according to the company's website.

Other companies will likely follow suit, adding to their array of nature-themed products with an eye toward emphasizing nature appreciation and education. Of course, you cannot plop this equipment down in the thick of nature because "as soon as you start introducing sand and grass it becomes a filtration issue," Neilson said, so the intent is to provide a "back-to-nature feel" in a more controlled environment.

Her company's new product line is based on plants and critters encountered in nature, and brings children up close and personal with oversized elements in a "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" fashion, as Neilson described it. Elements include blades of grass, butterflies, ants, wildflowers and dewdrops. Everything seems magnified from the child's standpoint, "so it's almost like they're in this little wonderland" where nature is larger than life.

Interactive Fountains as an Alternative

One way to appeal to a broader demographic without diminishing a child's sense of awe and adventure is to opt for an interactive fountain that people of all ages can play in. Typically chosen for urban settings, interactive fountains can be sequenced and timed to music to create water choreography if desired. Most have LED lighting for added beauty and nighttime appeal.

"Interactive fountains are great for areas with a fair amount of traffic, for cooling down," Thomas said. "Placement is important. People get wet, so would you want it near a shopping area where they would then go into stores?"

A Utah amusement park named Lagoon is an ideal spot, because parents and kids are outdoors and get hot. Lagoon's interactive fountain allows them to cool down, thereby increasing stay times. The fountain serves as both an aquatic play space and a sophisticated spectacle. More than a hundred water nozzles, all flush to the ground, create a dynamic sequence of spray effects. Every so often, the area is cordoned, and the fountain puts on a water-and-light show.

Interactive fountains of this type are advantageous because there's no above-ground equipment, which tends to break or deteriorate over time. "What I like about them is there's really nothing to stub a toe on," Thomas said. "They're completely ADA-compliant. You can wheel wheelchairs across them. You can even drive vehicles across them if necessary."

In addition, interactive fountains require less maintenance because they typically run on the city's water system in a single pass, so there are no filtration requirements, Thomas said. They provide for multigenerational engagement, with adults more likely to join in with kids than they would at a sprayground, Thomas has observed.

One downside is they typically use potable water in a single pass, "so there may be issues with people saying the city is wasting water," Thomas said.

You'd also want to "steer away from" using terminology other than interactive fountain, or intending it mainly for children's play because spraygrounds are held to a different standard when it comes to inspections, Thomas said.