Supplement Feature - February 2016
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Thrills & Spills

Improving the Fun Factor in Aquatics

By Kelli Ra Anderson

It was bound to happen. From natural playgrounds to community gardens and expanding nature trails, getting back to nature is a powerful recreation trend leaving its mark on just about everything in the industry—including aquatic programming, attractions and facility design.

Back to Nature

Fresh water recreation is making a comeback. But lakes, large ponds and waterfronts aren't the only thing attracting patrons these days with the promise of more thrills and spills. Creative event planning, responding to demands for patron-pleasing, demographic-centered and interactive aquatic features are just some of the must-do essentials in today's successful aquatic facility.

"You are going to start to see a return to brackish water—a return to lakes," observed Judith Leblein Josephs, CPRA, RA, director of community programs and the Summit Family Aquatic Center in Summit, N.J., and president of consulting firm, JLJ Enterprises LLC. "As a trend spotter, I'm seeing a move back to natural things—using sphagnum moss to keep pools clean, using salt water in pools. And we are seeing things like manmade lakes coming back with inflatables, kayaks and obstacle courses."

One facility that took the plunge into fresh water recreation was Camp Crosley in North Webster, Ind. The Muncie YMCA celebrated its centennial last summer with the addition of its newest attraction: a manmade lake.

"Camp Crosley was considering building a traditional aquatic center to enhance their campers' experience," explained Rich Wills, vice president and co-owner of a Verona, Wis.-based supplier of recreational equipment and consulting on projects like Camp Crosley's. Wills' firm proposed an alternative idea, the "H2Whoa Zone," "… which was to build a lake and outfit it with many activities that a traditional aquatic center could not support."

According to Wills, the throwback to natural bodies of water is a major shift in the aquatic recreation industry. "The most valuable piece of real estate has always been considered waterfront locations," he explained. "There has been a movement in simplistic terms of returning to the 'old swimming hole' by taking existing waterfronts and developing them as destinations for the entire community by providing active activities in, on and around the water."

And for those recreation sites that don't have such a waterfront? The answer is simple. Create one.

Freshwater waterparks have several advantages over traditional pools, including a broader range of activities and something for everyone regardless of age or ability. But the most critical advantage is that larger bodies of water can offer activities and attractions not as easily replicated in a traditional pool.

A new flotilla of attractions are catering to this trend like enormous 30-to-50-foot sealed air inflatables that can transform a lake or waterfront into a waterpark for far less than a landed structure. Then, there are the many attractions we often associate with natural water: paddle and pedal boats, standup paddle boards, canoes, rowboats, kayaks, water skiing and other deep- and shallow-water attractions.

Nature isn't just influencing designs to attract patrons either; nature is also determining which splash pad attractions will fail and which will succeed. It is no secret that water shortage has become a central issue for many states. "The big trend right now, especially last summer because of so many water conservation measures that closed down splash pads, is municipal recirculation underground tank reservoirs," said Edward Benck, director of engineering and administration for the Verona, Wis.-based supplier of recreational equipment. "It's a much more environmentally friendly system. We saw a lot of splash pads with drain-to-waste systems in Texas and California close down with water shortages, but the good news is recirculated systems didn't shut down. Curbing water use is a big emphasis right now."