Supplement Feature - October 2017
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Splash On!

The Ongoing Evolution of Splash Play

By Dave Ramont

Ever-Expanding Options

When it comes to actual splash park features and products, there are hundreds of choices, with new ones being developed all the time. There are posts, hoops, arches and domes that spray and mist. Dumping buckets, troughs and tippers splash from above, while ground sprays and jets hit you from below. Multi-play structures are popular, boasting multiple features that splash and spray. Some are climbable or feature slides. And while kids may find these products irresistibly fun, they sometimes provide a deeper function, too.

Croteau explained that a majority of their play products offer an extra dimension of play value. "We have many technologies that challenge the patrons physically with the ability to turn, spin and adjust the play products," he said. "There's also a mental challenge as well. Many of our play products are designed to create an opportunity to see cause and effect or to collaborate with a friend. This pushes the cognitive ability of the user."

Oftentimes, venues choose to go with a theme for their installation. Greg Stokes, managing director of an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based company that designs interactive waterpark and splash park products, feels that the popularity of themed splash parks ebbs and flows with the economy, and with the types of projects that their customers are bringing. "Some of the most highly requested designs are nautical, plantscape and sports themes."

Tracy agrees that theming can be popular, saying that they offer a signature generic theme along with a variety of themes, such as tropical, marine, circus, jungle, zoo, wild west, barnyard, pirates and even Christmas. "Our latest theme to be introduced this year is an interactive water playground filled with cupcakes, candies, popsicles and a variety of colorful sweets."

If your venue wants to create a design using your own custom theme, there are manufacturers that can accommodate your imagination. Tracy's company creates theming to a certain extent, as long as it follows their design content. Stokes' company can also create custom themes: "We enjoy collaborating with our customers to create themes that reflect the heritage of the location."

And what about age zones—is it important to keep the youngest water enthusiasts separated from the older and potentially more active users? Stokes said they design spray parks to welcome different age groups. "By designing age-appropriate zones—Gentle Activity Zones for kids aged 2 to 4, Universal Family Zones for all ages, and Dynamic Zones for kids aged 7 and up—visitors to the splash park have a more positive experience and everyone stays safe."

Croteau said they also design to meet the needs of different age groups. "Our bay concept allows us to create spaces that are unique to a specific age group but also congruent with the rest of the splash pad. The idea here is to provide an area appropriate for the different types of play experiences while keeping a certain level of safety in mind."

Tracy added that, in large installations, the preschool splash park is often a separate area altogether.

Beyond the Wading Pool

Some parks and municipalities are looking for economical ways to update their older, "tired" wading pools—whether it's for mechanical reasons, code reasons or simply to bring some added pizzazz to attract more customers. "Currently, we do more stand-alone splash pad projects. However, we're beginning to see a trend of existing wading pools being converted into splash pads," Stokes said.

There are a couple of directions to go when converting or retrofitting a wading pool to accommodate a splash pad. The new splash pad can be built on top of the existing structure, or the pool can be completely removed with the splash pad being installed in its place. Splash park designers or contractors can assist in assessing existing conditions to come up with the best plan. Some factors include drainage and drainage slopes, conditions of existing plumbing and mechanical systems, local codes, fencing and lighting. Certain splash park features can also simply be bolted to the pool, transforming a shallow wading pool into an interactive splash pad. These products have self-contained pumps, eliminating the need for an external water feed, and can typically be used in as little as six inches of water.

Croteau explained that a lot of facilities are looking to add amenities to their current offering. "However, we often find customers who are just getting their feet wet with the idea of adding an aquatic facility, and a splash pad is a great starting point."

Otter Cove, in St. Charles, Ill., is a state-of-the-art aquatic facility that features a lap pool with diving boards and drop slides, a toddler pool, a zero-depth entry activity pool, a lazy river, concessions and more. But it all started with a splash park, featuring spray loops, dumping buckets, spray cannons, bubblers, geysers, spray columns, water wheels and a shaded sand-play area.

"The splash park opened in 2005 as a stand-alone facility. Parent/adult admissions were free, and the entry fee was charged per child. After several years of success in the community, a referendum was passed to add on to the park, creating Otter Cove Aquatic Park in 2011," said Jennifer Bruggeman, assistant superintendent of recreation at the St. Charles Park District.

Now, even with all the other amenities, Bruggeman said the splash park is still popular, being utilized mostly by young kids. "Older siblings will visit the younger kids for a while to cool off in the shaded sand area, or play in the spray features for a while before returning to the larger park area. There are interactive spray areas allowing children to aim at each other and a great dump bucket that has just enough water to cause a splash."

No lifeguards are necessary in the splash park area, though Bruggeman said park admissions staff rotate through the park, checking for safety and enforcing rules. And while full-facility rental opportunities are available at Otter Cove, Bruggeman said that splash park-only rentals are also popular, typically in the mornings before regular hours. "Family birthday parties, neighborhood picnics, local daycares, churches and preschool sporting groups are usually our splash-only customers."