Take Me into the Ball Playground

Wiley’s Woods at Great Wolf Lodge
Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

By Jenny E. Beeh

They say it's like no game you've ever played before. Some call it a live-action video game or more technically, an interactive "ball play" attraction.

Whatever it is, it's fun.

And it gets kids moving. In fact, you'll find whole families running around, climbing, sliding, sorting, vacuuming and, of course, dodging foam balls whizzing through the air.

Welcome to Wiley's Woods, a $4 million, 20,000-square-foot, four-story play structure at the Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells, the unofficial waterpark capital of the Midwest. Incidentally, the attraction's namesake, Wiley the Wolf (in case you were wondering), is the family resort's mascot.

Combining mental and physical strategy with storytelling and computer technology, Wiley's Woods is both a play setting and an adventure quest. Players—called Creature Keepers—rack up points (tracked by their electronic wristbands) using the 65 game consoles, slides, bridges, nets and mazes. The concept is simple, but every game is different: The magical forest is home to many creatures, so it's up to the Creature Keepers to ensure the critters (from butterflies and squirrels to a temperamental lion) are fed the right diet of berries. Berries? Yes, those would be those 25,000 colored foam balls zinging around.


All of this instant scoring is possible thanks to the Smart Band Wristbands with RFID (radio frequency ID) technology made by Precision Dynamics Corporation in San Fernando, Calif.

The magical forest is also home to a giant central tree with scoreboard, gravity chutes, berry vacuums, drum cannons, hyper blowers and a massive berry tipping bucket at the top of the tree.

"Family entertainment is why we exist, and Wiley's Woods has become the centerpiece of our commitment to build attractions that create an experience like none other," says Curtis Brown, general manager at Great Wolf Lodge. "KoalaPlay Group was instrumental in creating a new and exciting family fun venue where our guests are spending countless hours."

In creating Wiley's Woods, KoalaPlay Group in Englewood, Colo., turned to psychologist Denise Weston, an expert in children and family play and entertainment. Weston originated the live-action video game concept that incorporates KoalaPlay Group's interactive play mechanisms.

KoalaPlay Group, the new commercial play design and development division of Koala Corporation, was launched this year as a turnkey, full-services provider that integrates Koala Corporation's three commercial play equipment companies: Delta Play Company, SCS Interactive and Superior Foam, Inc. From project brainstorming all the way to ribbon-cutting, the new division offers a comprehensive service to conceive and create family-friendly environments ranging from soft play structures to fully themed play areas, waterparks and Interactive BallPlay attractions.

Koala also helped create Great Wolf's other attractions, in particular the lodge's 40,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, complete with a four-story treehouse featuring a dozen levels and more than 60 geyser jets, cargo nets, web crawls and a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket. There's also a 30,000-square-foot outdoor waterpark for summer guests. Built in 1997, the 16.75-acre family resort first opened with 117 rooms and has since expanded to 309 family-size suites in its 270,000 square-foot lodge. Brown says about 70 percent of Great Wolf's business is return customers and word-of-mouth, so patrons constantly have to be kept interested and entertained, especially as consumers keep getting more and more sophisticated, and kids and parents both have continually higher expectations.

Wiley's Woods offers a "dry" play option as a complement to Great Wolf Lodge's indoor waterpark.

"In the Dells, everyone is expanding their waterparks, and this is something different," Brown says of Wiley's Woods. "We're in a very competitive market here, and we had to come up with something unique. We wanted more than a playground."

The lodge was looking to create a themed, self-contained, safe play environment that was also ADA-compliant and relatively low maintenance. It also had to be dry: a non-swimming option for waterlogged families looking for some land-based fun, an unsoggy oasis amongst all the wet Dells' attractions. In a way, Wiley's Woods embraces the same concept as a waterpark, except the water is replaced by the foam balls as the medium of fun. There's also its whole new dimension of being a real-live game.

Wiley's Woods has a 400-player capacity at one time. No average player age has become evident yet, as it's not uncommon to see Mom and Dad competing right along with the kids. (In fact, there is no childcare offered to encourage family time.) Typical visits last about two to two-and-a-half hours. While Wiley's Woods is open to the public (admission for children 12 and under is $5.95 and adults are $8.95), admission is free for lodge guests. Party rooms and a Pizza Hut Express are also on site in case all that berry chasing brings on the munchies.

Brown tells the story of one 6-year-old boy who loved his experience at Great Wolf so much, he wore his lodge admission wristband home—and wore it for a whole year.

Now that's what you'd call customer satisfaction.

For more information
Great Wolf Lodge/Wiley's Woods: 800-559-WOLF,
www.greatwolflodge.com or www.wileyswoods.com

Precision Dynamics Corporation: 800-847-0670
or www.pdcorp.com

© Copyright 2022 Recreation Management. All rights reserved.