Supplement Feature - October 2017
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Splash On!

The Ongoing Evolution of Splash Play

By Dave Ramont

On a nice hot day, you just might find yourself daydreaming about relaxing under a gentle, cool mist of water. Or, if you're a kid, you might require a bit more action when it comes to cooling off, such as engaging in a battle of water cannons or getting a giant bucket of water dumped on your head. If there's a splash park nearby, all of these things and more are possibilities.

Splash parks, splash pads, spray parks, spraygrounds—whatever term you use to describe them, they have been gaining in popularity over the past 15 years or so. Sometimes they're part of, or adjacent to, wading pools, but often they're stand-alone facilities with no standing water, thus eliminating the need for lifeguards. And with low-flow options, users don't necessarily have to change into swimming attire—street clothes are welcome. They can accommodate almost any space, though the minimum suggested size is about 1,000 square feet. Typically there are ground nozzles that spray water upward, and a variety of features that mist, spray, pour, tip and shoot refreshing water. Many features allow kids to interact by using diverters, pushbuttons, push-and-pull handles or foot sensors. New or additional play elements can be added as budgets allow.

A Growing Market

Louis Parent is vice president of operations, and Avery Croteau is a regional sales manager for a Pointe-Claire, Quebec, manufacturer of splash play and related products. Their philosophy is to design their installations and products around the "fundamental tenets of play." They point to social play, where kids interact with one another, and discovery play, where kids can experiment with cause and effect. And they prioritize inclusive play, with people of all ages and abilities taking part in the fun.

"We would like to consider ourselves 'play architects,' in the fact that we understand the best application for our products to ensure maximum play value for all age groups. It is our goal to work alongside our clients as consultants to guide them through this process. Ideally, we take their vision and make it an engaging environment," Croteau said.

They also believe that splash parks can become community destinations, where kids can participate in free play, and parents and neighbors can connect and form relationships as well. This is especially important in disadvantaged communities where there may be fewer opportunities to make social connections. "We have seen so many real-life examples of deserted parks that were brought back to life with a splash pad, bringing the community together," Parent said. They also point out that oftentimes, parents tend to leave the sidelines and join the fun with their kids—much more than with any other play opportunity.

Municipalities and parks and recreation departments are splash park proponents, but more private and commercial venues are considering them as well, as a way to drive attendance. Wyeth Tracy, president of a Stouffville, Ontario-based designer and manufacturer of waterpark and splash park equipment, explained that while they do provide a variety of stand-alone splash parks, it's becoming more common these days to add them to existing aquatic facilities in hotels, resorts and YMCAs. "Theme parks and zoos that are very hot in the summer are adding splash parks to increase length of stay," he said. "And of course, waterparks, historically known for a variety of waterslides and wave pools, have discovered that the little ones have tremendous 'pester power,' which will sway the parents to a certain venue that has children's interactive splash parks. Owners are finding out that, as a result, the whole family visits the park, not just the teens—increasing revenues significantly."

Some campgrounds are also adding water play installations since they realize that on-site offerings help attract customers, and amenities such as a splash park can trigger multi-night stays as opposed to travelers just passing through. Hotels and resorts looking to make their venue a destination know that an aesthetically pleasing splash park can give them a competitive edge, since kids can engage in safe water play for hours while adults relax. And large retail establishments and shopping centers that are constantly competing with online vendors are discovering that interactive splash parks are a great draw for families with children, helping to turn a shopping trip into an entertainment experience. Other places that splash parks are popping up include fitness centers, amusement parks, aquariums, housing developments, homeowner associations and military bases.