Water Works

Make the Most of Your Waterfront

By Rick Dandes

If you have water, you have an amenity that can be transformed into a huge attraction. From small-scale projects at campgrounds to large-scale city parks and riverwalk projects, municipalities of all sizes are taking a serious look at how to get the most out of their natural assets, finding ways to re-imagine those spaces and even profit from it.

Although each project is unique, almost all of them begin with an un-utilized or under-utilized facility, either a pool or waterfront.

"The first step is to clearly understand the specific goals of the project," explained Peter Arpag, a brand manager for a manufacturer of inflatables, headquartered in Durham, N.C. "It pays to do preliminary research to fully understand any limitations, regulations and restrictions for the project. This could range from facility limitations such as water depth to regulatory needs like permits for waterfront moorage."

Inflate Your Water

Waterfront aqua parks featuring inflatables, docks and more may require permits at the municipal, state or even federal level depending on the site. Sometimes these permits are easy to get, while at other times permitting can be a long, slow process. Typically, the process is aided by having respect for potential environmental impacts and a desire to find good multi-use solutions.

Many parks and recreation departments have under-used pool facilities whose funding is in jeopardy. In this situation, spending more money can be a difficult step. One of the advantages of installing an aqua park system using inflatables is that the cost is relatively low compared to fixed waterslides and other amenities, while the attraction factor is quite high. This is a great advantage when it comes to budgetary constraints, because it's easy to show a strong return on investment, Arpag said.

Besides the relatively low cost and a strong ROI, many parks appreciate the flexibility of inflatable aqua parks. Having the ability to strategically re-task a part of the facility to increase traffic during key hours without the full commitment of a permanent structure is one of the more important aspects of a system. In some cases, it can take about 30 minutes to convert three swim lanes into an open-swim area that will excite and engage 30 or more participants. Once open-swim is over, the space can be easily re-tasked for lap swimmers.

People Want What's New

Existing clubs or marinas trying to upgrade their facilities will often start by improving their dockage, said John Krogman, director of sales and marketing of an Atlantic, Iowa-based aquatic dealer-manufacturer firm. "They come to us with different needs. Maybe they have an existing boat club or marina. It might be city owned or privately owned, but the key is they want to attract new customers to their area and keep their current customers. People are demanding great facilities. And if they are boat owners paying rental space, they want new docks."

Krogman suggested that for some waterfronts, complete systems utilizing floating docks can be used for both commercial and residential dock applications. "There are docks," he said, "that offer increased width, which allows for greater stability for deeper water applications and is a cost-effective way to provide increased accessibility to the water for both public and private installations."

People are looking for easy installation. After the contractor has gone and everything is in place, can those on staff take it apart easily, rearrange it or move it.

"A lot of municipalities with access to a waterfront." Krogman said, "are looking to create not only a destination, but also a way to create income." One thing to do is install transient boat slips, so while boaters are going up and down a waterway they can stop and do something. Maybe you have a restaurant on site. Another idea is to rearrange a system into a long, skinny dock for a rowing event. There are also a lot of jet skiers, so a lot of communities are making their docks available for water skiers. In smaller communities, you might build a dock with a rail around it so that people can come there and fish off the dock.

"My point," Krogman said, "is that by installing floating docks, you can provide a safe place to harbor while the boater eats, relaxes onshore and spends money."

The Old Swimming Hole

For municipalities especially, swimming pools and aquatic centers can be very expensive operations. But many of those municipalities have a natural asset like a riverfront or a swimming beach. Years ago, some of these areas were like a hub, a center of what happened in town. Then, somehow, people moved away from nature and went to modern swimming pools and aquatic facilities. But now, with sustainability and active recreation being a trend, municipalities are ideally positioned to go back to those things in new and creative ways.

"The question is, how do you utilize underutilized assets, how do you get a high rate of return, and why does this type of recreation work?" asked Ron Romens, president of a recreation equipment supplier based in Verona, Wis.

"I'll tell you why," he said. "It's active recreation vs. passive recreation. People are swimming and diving and climbing. It's back to nature."

locations you are charging a fee. It builds community, and it's socially sustainable in that it becomes that gathering place again, a place where so many memories were created in the past, now to be relived and new memories created. There is a lot of history there that people are interested in, if it is presented in a safe, creative way. And a community can build on that.

Studies have shown that people recreate longer and stay longer when nature is integrated. Financially, it can be sustainable, since at some of these

Picture if you will the old swimming hole of the 1940s and 1950s. These beaches were packed with people. And a wide variety of age groups would be there. It was multi-generational, from grandparents to grandkids all playing on the beach.

Now, we can look at the modern swimming hole and re-imagine it. Take Regner Park in West Bend, Wis., for example, where they had this longstanding swimming beach, which was the center of activity in the town for years. Recently, it was reinvented. The town put in a splashpad, a new pavilion and it just revitalized that whole park. Revenues went up. Attendance went back up to the level of where it was 30 years ago. And it was just by modernizing the beach.

Another transformation occurred at Troll beach in Stoughton, Wis., Romens said. "This was a half-acre pond that they used for a swimming hole. It used to be called the mud hole. They rebranded it and they added a group of inflatables for the waterfront, shade shelters, some seating and they quadrupled their revenues. It went from a little swimming hole used for toddlers and moms to four times the number of the previous year and teenagers and young adults going to it to recreate."

One other thing, suggested Romens. If you don't have an existing asset, you might have five acres of empty land. "Why not build a pond and totally build the recreation around it?" he said. "The reason all of this works is that it really hits on all the things that people are gravitating to. When you put sand under their toes and grass under their feet, people love it. And they come back."

Going Green, on a Larger Scale

The city of Houston is in the midst of a stunning greenways project. "Most people don't know that Houston has flooding issues. We are a city of bayous, and these bayous have caused major flooding over the years," said Joe Turner, director Houston Parks and Recreation Department. "So, the city talked with its citizens, and eventually developed a vision plan in concert with the Harris County Flood Control District, which is an organization whose job it is to solve flooding problems.

As the district bought up land along the bayou, Houston Parks then began developing the banks for recreational use. "We have a project called Bayou Greenway 2020, where we're building 150 miles worth of trail along our bayou systems. It's a $205 million project and of that $205 million, $100 million of it was in a bond project that was passed and then our nonprofit entity, our Houston Parks board, came up with the other $105 million. We call it BG2020 because we'll be through in the year 2020."

The vision, Turner said, is to connect the waterways and the trail system using the bayou system as the framework. "Many years ago," he said, "they were waterways and people turned their backs on them. Now we have learned the value of the bayou system, but also a trail system to let people get out and experience nature and walking trails. We build a trail and they will use it. We have done quite a bit of bridge work on the trail systems. The result is we are really connecting communities that weren't connected before unless you drove there by vehicle."

Over the next seven years, BG2020 will unite nine bayous that flow through the city with parks and trails. The project will add about 1,500 additional acres of green space and create 150 miles of connected, continuous, safe, off-street trails.

Restoration & Revenue Generation

Across the country from Texas, another huge project is underway in Maryland, a partnership between the designers and landscape engineers at Angler Environmental and the Prince William County (PWC) Department of Parks and Recreation in Virginia, with a goal of completing a stream mitigation bank on PWC park land.

"Imagine, we started this ongoing project in 2007, and it will restore or preserve over 22 miles of stream channel," said Donald Seaborn, principal, Angler Environmental, of Warrenton, Va.

The project is already a revenue generator, Seaborn said. "Because it is funded in its entirety by Angler, PWC receives improved water resources cost-free. Additionally, this project is unique in that it actually generates revenue for PWC via the sale of mitigation credits produced by Angler to local developers."

Seaborn estimates that Angler, acting as a mitigation bank, will generate about $3.5 million for PWC over the life of the bank. This funding can then be reinvested in conservation efforts for its public parks. To date, PWC has earned roughly $1 million from participating in PWEB. This economic gain is in addition to the environmental benefits of more than two miles of stream restoration on two park sites.

"We should note that not every restoration project makes a good mitigation project, as there are both ecological and economic requirements that must be fulfilled," Seaborn said. Necessary ecological factors include sufficient resource degradation, the availability of buffer areas adjacent to the restoration work, and adequate project size. In terms of economic requirements, projects must be located in a watershed with adequate demand for mitigation credits—that is, there must be active land development incurring stream or wetland impacts.

For the types of projects Angler typically undertakes—large-scale water resource restorations—Seaborn offered some additional advice.

"In terms of actual construction," he said, "dredging is usually a requirement for pond and lake projects and is often more expensive than local entities may anticipate. For stream restoration construction, a key element is restoring the stream in a natural way, which we believe ensures long-term channel viability.

During a water resource restoration project within a community or park, one of the biggest challenges is conveying that project's ultimate end goal during the construction process. A stream restoration project is still a construction project, and as such, it is messy, muddy and crowded with yellow equipment. Public access to community features, such as trails, may be limited for safety reasons, and although you can minimize tree felling, some trees typically must be removed to provide access paths for the equipment.

In the midst of these inconveniences, Seaborn said, it's important to encourage the public about the project, updating on-site signage and online materials with project background, timeframe for completion, closure updates and long-term benefits. Restoration efforts should be aimed at creating a space for the community to engage with nature via enhanced habitat, improved water quality and pleasing aesthetics.

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