Supplement Feature - October 2022
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Mist, Spray & Splash

Trends in Splash Play, From Inclusion to Water Conservation

By Emily Tipping


In 2001, I encountered a splash play area for the first time. It was one of those scorching hot summer days, and a friend and I had taken a lunchtime stroll for iced coffee and found a spot to sit in a park somewhere in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. In that park was a fairly rudimentary zero-depth splash pad, with a handful of features that misted and sprayed—all to the noisy delight of around a dozen kids. Since then, splash play has expanded vastly.

"Splash pads of today offer a lot more than the splash pads of 15 to 20 years ago," said Barb Lapierre, regional sales manager for a designer and manufacturer of splash pad products based in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. "They are sustainable, well thought out and planned amenities that offer inclusive play for all and provide the opportunity for social and park equity that communities are looking to bring to their citizens."

Splash parks and water playgrounds are "pretty much mainstream now in any place that has an existing aquatic amenity," said Wyeth Tracy, president of a splash play equipment manufacturer based in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario. "Municipal parks and recreation centers are all including spray parks in their budgets because they are less expensive to maintain than a swimming pool. They are also safer, which pleases the insurance companies."

In addition to local parks and aquatic facilities, Tracy said, spray parks are increasingly found on cruise ships, and waterparks have been adding larger versions to their facilities as a way to accommodate preschoolers and younger children. "Spray parks tend to be more inclusive to all types of bodies because they provide physical structures that come in all sizes and shapes for all people," he said.

Indeed, as with playgrounds, inclusion continues to be a trend in splash play design. Other trends cited by splash play product designers and manufacturers include theming, interactivity, water conservation and more.

"Incorporating the town's local icon or history into the splash play area is a growing trend," said Chris Thomas, director of marketing for a designer and manufacturer of water play equipment based in San Marcos, Texas. "It helps to embrace the community culture and history in a way that is unique to the community. Whether the splash pad is entirely a custom theme that mimics the town's history, or just a centerpiece that pays homage to a local icon, this is a great way to educate patrons and bring about a sense of community pride."

Talking about trends, Jodi Holt, regional sales director for an Ashland, Ohio-based manufacturer of water play equipment, said that the more interactive a splash play area is, the better. Her company's newest addition is a Whack-a-Mole-like game where the losing player gets a spray. New approaches to water conservation are also a trend, Holt said.

Sylvia Bucklew, marketing coordinator for a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based designer and manufacturer of pool and water play equipment, said there's been a shift away from potable, flow-through systems to recirculating systems, which saves money. Surfacing has also seen changes, with more splash pads relying on surface choices other than brushed concrete. This adds "… an additional element of theming and a more attractive design," she said. "We also have seen many facilities adding a splash pad to an existing swimming pool deck to incorporate a space for inclusive water play."

Lapierre said that extending the hours when splash pads can be used and expanding the demographic they serve are major trends. "Splash pads have always been designed to be inclusive and fun for all ages and abilities," she said. "New splash pads include LED lighting, enhanced technologies like digital water curtains, interactive play and age-specific experiences. These new additions invite different users to take advantage of this open space that offers rich water experiences and enhances our communities."

All Are Welcome

There are simple ways to make your splash play area more inviting to everyone in your community, along with specific ways to ensure those with physical and developmental disabilities are welcome to the fun.

Holt said that local theming incorporated into the park is one way to make it more inviting and attractive to the community. In addition, she said, "adding inclusive/interactive elements such as LED buttons for sound, vibration and action" are all low-cost ways to deliver "huge results."

Lapierre said a multi-layered approach taken to splash pad design is the best way to ensure it will reach as broad an audience as possible. This includes "… designing play for all ages, developmental stages, and all abilities," she explained. "It's important to include a wide variety of different experiences, from contemplative to fully immersive. It's also important to consider the capacity of the splash pad; the goal is to ensure there is enough play value for all while still being a comfortable and safe environment."

Eric Zelman, regional sales director with an Ashland, Ohio-based manufacturer of water play equipment, said that splash pads should be designed with inclusive features, and should be segmented with age-appropriate features.

Bucklew further elaborated on this concept. "For instance," she said, "the south end of a splash pad could be designed with light-pressure ground sprays to encourage those with sensory limitations, such as toddlers and those with disabilities, to use the splash pad. The opposite end can be designed with high-pressure water play features that have interactive elements. Dumping buckets, multilevel water playsets and other large water play structures can be intimidating at first, but draw the attention of older children and young adults. By having different areas that appeal to different abilities, you can create a splash play area that allows your guests to explore at their level of comfortability."