Supplement Feature - September 2020
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Water Fun For Everyone

Aquatic Play Gets 'Smart'

By Rick Dandes


As public and private splash play areas at waterparks and in municipalities across the country reopen, designers remain focused on inclusivity, offering new, creative approaches to play, using the latest in technologies to enhance the user experience, while adhering to safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"What we are seeing happen in aquatic play is a focus on the bigger picture of inclusivity and the overall lifecycle of the play space," said Shanley Hutchinson, creative manager at a supplier and innovator of water play solutions based in Kelowna, British Columbia. "This is less of a trend, and more of a movement."

Water naturally draws people in, which makes splash play a great addition to the community fabric because it creates a meeting point where people from all walks of life can visit and spend a few hours, Hutchinson explained.

"Public splash pads provide an inclusive play environment to water players of all ages and abilities," she continued. "If designed right, with appropriate spacing between play elements that comfortably fit a walker or wheelchair, and paths of play that encourages flow throughout the space, the splash pad becomes a hub where everyone can experience joy, from grandparents looking to connect with their grandchildren in a meaningful way to families looking to connect within their community and get outdoors."

The splash pad is truly a place for everyone, she said. The best public aquatic play spaces will provide a diverse range of play features to suit all play styles and abilities, from toddlers looking for soft, predictable water patterns, to thinkers who like to problem-solve, kids who feel more comfortable engaging in imagination alongside a caretaker or friend, and those with limited mobility.

"Yes, it does seem like everyone is focused on maximizing play value," added Kelsi Goss, vice president of design for a Minneapolis-based provider of safe surfacing for aquatic play areas. "And while we, as a company, only deal with surface design, we've noted spray-feature manufacturers looking to diversify their offerings to appeal to guests of all ages. For instance, smaller, simpler ground sprays to engage with the younger crowd and then products ranging all the way up to massive play structures with waterslides and dump buckets for more adventurous and older kids."

Inclusive design is by far the leading trend in splash pad design, said Aaron Skogen, general manager of a Delano, Minn.-based aquatic play designer and manufacturer. "Clients," he said, "are looking to design for inclusion and interactive play that seeks to create opportunities for teamwork, socializing and problem-solving. The splash pad at Parkersburg City Park in Parkersburg, W.V., provides a great example of water play for all.

"Our project team," Skogen said, "considered the placement of spray features throughout the space to welcome individuals of all abilities."

Additionally, he said, around the dynamic spray play elements there are opportunities for kids to step back and have a calming moment. To facilitate this, the spray pad included a visual cue in the surfacing design. The blue ribbon mimics the nearby Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers and tells users that activities with gentle flows are in or just beyond that mark. To further embrace inclusive team and group spray play, the design included an interactive water table that brings individuals of all physical and cognitive abilities together to learn and socialize.