Supplement Feature - October 2019
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Just Add Water

Indoors or Out, Waterparks Offer Fun for All

By Dave Ramont

In 1995, the Deep River Waterpark opened in Crown Point, Ind., after a survey determined that residents desired more water-based activities in their Lake County Parks system. The WTI project features a wave pool, two body slides, a tube slide, a slow river and a children's play zone. The park surpassed expectations, drawing 220,000 visitors that first season.

To meet demand, the park added the Storm the following year—a ride featuring three enclosed tubes that start five stories above the park, propelling visitors through twists and turns in total darkness. In 1999 they opened the Dragon—a speed slide complex standing taller than any of their other structures. They also added two food and beverage areas, more restrooms, chairs, tables and shade structures. In 2005 the park nearly doubled in size, adding an interactive family play structure, an action river, dueling bowl slides, more food stands and visitor amenities. Parking and bus drop-off areas were expanded. And in 2017 the Kraken debuted, a popular six-lane mat slide racer ride.

"We're part of the local parks department and always have been," said Chris Nawracaj, Deep River's general manager. "It's 100% staffed and maintained by Lake County Parks Department employees."

He said that they're always trying to add on to make the park bigger and more exciting for their guests, explaining how they added an ice rink in the 2005 addition. "Being in northwest Indiana, the waterpark is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The addition of ice skating let us open in the winter months to provide an additional amenity for our guests." The 14,500-square-foot ice plaza features food and beverage locations, heated indoor bathrooms, skate rentals, birthday parties and private rink rentals.

Catered birthday parties are also available at the waterpark, and day groups are popular, as are private events for groups, who can rent the park for two or three hours most evenings after 6:30. "The park is exclusively theirs for the night," said Nawracaj. "Some groups use these as fundraisers; others use them as events for their employees. We generally have private events most nights during the summer operating season."

Tubin' Tuesdays are another park mainstay, according to Nawracaj. "It's always a popular event with a DJ, and it's the only night of the week where we stay open until 9:30 for the general public."

Life jackets are free to use for visitors, and lockers—standard, large and jumbo—are available to rent. Nawracaj said that food and beverage outlets are popular, and their retail space sells branded souvenirs along with things that people might need throughout their day. "It's nice to be able to generate that little extra revenue and provide people with a memento of their day at the park."

Deep River allows coolers, which is a selling point since most water and amusement parks don't. "We inspect all coolers prior to entering the park for items that we don't allow such as glass, alcohol and knives. Lots of people take advantage of this," said Nawracaj, pointing out that this does result in more trash for employees to tend with.

Nawracaj said they use Facebook for social interaction—promoting exclusive offers, contests and events—along with partnering with local media and radio stations for marketing. "We do partner with the local food bank for Food Bank Mondays. Guests can bring in two canned good items to donate and in return they receive $5 off their admission." Family Saver packages feature drink, snack and water toy add-ons with admission.

Deep River has two gazebos and a large shelter to rent, and their eight- and 12-person cabanas are always sold out. "Customers are always looking for that exclusive space that's theirs, and the cabanas provide that. We're always talking about adding more of them to the park," said Nawracaj.

According to Nachreiner, deck amenities are just as important as the aquatic attractions to the user experience and appeal. He points out that the first thing a pool guest does upon entering a facility is figure out where to put their "stuff," whether it's a lounge chair, locker or cabana. "Enhancing these spaces for upgraded experiences—such as the privacy and amenities of a cabana or the extra area for celebration of a reservable shelter/room—continues to be a great source of additional revenue for aquatic centers."

Keeping park amenities fresh is important for the bottom line, since people have more choices for what to do with their time and spending money, according to Ezra. "Parks don't necessarily need to add a new ride every year, either—sometimes it's adding a new evening event such as a dive-in movie or adding early entrance hours for season pass holders. Having something new can help your brand break through and stand out to consumers."