Feature Article - March 2015
Find a printable version here

Waterfront Access

Clever Planning, Activities Help Draw Visitors

By Deborah L. Vence

Waterfronts can be just the place you need to attract visitors to your area. But developing waterfront space to make it inviting enough for visitors takes skillful planning and some key elements conducive for such a development.

"Not only can waterfront space be developed for activities on the water, but also, the land space before the waterfront can serve multiple purposes as well," said Luke Diserio, MBA, PGA, CEO of a Wellsburg, W.Va.-based company that specializes in dock systems and dock hardware for commercial and residential applications.

"Waterfront space can be attractive to many boaters, fishermen and recreationists. When offering waterfront space, a facility can attract more visitors by adding other elements to the surrounding land area," he said. "Many parks offer waterfront access where they built a new picnic area, playground, RV camping, restrooms, sport fields, etc., in order to maximize visitors to the site. Waterfront space can be more comfortable and attractive to visitors when the entire family can find something fun to do in the same area complex."

In this issue, we explore the best ways to develop waterfront space to attract visitors, as well as some of the do's and don'ts in planning for such a development.

Planning for Waterfront Space

First, waterfront developments need to serve a purpose for some group of people.

"When the development can serve multiple groups of people, the waterfront development will show to be more attractive and, thus, more successful," Diserio said.

For example, including a dock at a waterfront development can serve quite a few people, such as fishermen, boaters and recreationists.

"Having a dock with a restaurant as well can draw more people to the development. Having a dock with a fishing pier can bring groups of people to fish in a designated spot," Diserio said. "A key factor for any waterfront space is location, and ease of getting to the location. The more diverse a waterfront is, the more it will appeal to different groups of visitors."

Ron Romens, president of a Verona, Wis.-based company that specializes in recreation products and services, and assists commercial clients with planning, designing and outfitting recreational sites, including waterfronts, said he approaches the development of waterfront space from a comprehensive perspective.

"Most projects [have to do with] what the goal of the owner is and customers and who their customer is. Who are they serving? When I look at waterfronts, we deal with municipal, summer camps and campground customers, and each are different in their criteria, what their goals and objectives are," Romens said.

"So, what I find is that people use these tools and develop these areas for recreating in three different ways. One way is a programming tool." As an example, he cited a waterfront at a summer camp geared toward programming, where there are outcomes they want to achieve and can use that waterfront to drive those outcomes. "They use it for general recreation as well. A big motivation for summer camps is programming. How do you best set it up for programming?"

For a municipality, on the other hand, waterfront space might be developed as an amenity for the people. Quality of life issues need to be considered for the people as well as a tourism draw.

Romens added that you have to look at what you want the outcome to be and break it into zones, too, such as active recreation and passive recreation zones that will accommodate different demographics of people. "So, you are getting cross-generation opportunities. People are going to circulate around the waterfront. You need to shade and [put] seating at the waterfront [chairs or benches]. When you are developing a waterfront, you are developing an environment, as opposed to just saying that we are going to put a dock there and that's it," he said.

Active recreation is very strong in the municipal market, and at campgrounds and camps.

"People are driving it as a whole. They want to control their experience and be a part of the experience," Romens said. At a waterfront people can control how deep they go in the water and how much they want to challenge themselves. A waterslide, on the other hand, is passive. You just go down the tube. Kayaking, aqua parks, floating climbing walls, even sand castles on the beach are a little bit more active and engaging. The customer creates the experience and uses the facilities the way they want.

"What we're seeing in recreation as a whole … all the way from [kids to] seniors … people are moving more. Active recreation [involves] creating the environment and stimulating the person's imagination," he added.