Cascading Water

Stay-and-play water resorts are all the rage right now. So much so that our local version, Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, home to the famous Cedar Point Amusement Park, has just announced it will add 93,000 square feet to its existing facility, making it the nation’s largest water park.

According to Kalahari President Todd Nelson, “This thing will never be finished. We’ll be making it better, nicer, with more amenities.” He adds, “As trends and times change, you need to change with them.”

Catching Up With The Times

Chances are, your department is not on the scale of a Kalahari Resort, but you are keenly aware of the need to keep up with changing times. You’re also probably aware those changing times now include spraygrounds, water parks, water features, water slides, and who knows what else?

At the heart of all these discussions is one simple fact: people are attracted to water, whether enjoying a homemade Slip-N-Slide in the backyard or hitting the drop-slide at their local rec center. Water holds a power over kids of all ages--and it’s not loosening its grip anytime soon.

So, if you’re forced to reconcile your patrons’ desire for water recreation with the fact that all you have to offer is a vintage 1970s cement pool, our discussion with freelance industrial designer Daniel Mariage should help point you in the right direction.

Which Way Will It Flow?

As Mariage says, “It is a strange interaction human beings have with water--the cleanliness, the fluidity, the caressing quality, the fantasy, and the cooling ability; it’s a very simple, but powerful form of entertainment. That’s why we’re attracted to it.”

But, as we all know, water may be simple for us to use, but not so simple to provide. After all, we’re dealing with a liquid that flows, predictably, to the lowest point around.

Step one, like always, is to assess the needs of your patrons and let them determine the type of facility you’ll be creating. The options are almost overwhelming and can be built indoors or out--sprayground, zero-entry shallow water playground, competition pool, lazy river, full-fledged water park or any combination of some or all of these elements.

Mariage’s expertise is with spraygrounds and shallow-water playgrounds (he often collaborates with Empex Watertoys and has even designed the majority of their water elements). According to him, the advantage to building a spraypark or sprayground is that there is no standing water--the water spraying from the features flows to the nearest drain and, depending upon the location, is either re-circulated or not. Limited supervisory staff is needed, and insurance companies have endorsed the concept as safe and reliable.

On the downside, if unsupervised, unwanted participants, such as birds, animals, vandals, etc., can enter the area. The unwanted visitors often require a higher level of water-quality checks.

The shallow-water playground normally has a beach-type entry for the younger set, and the depth slowly increases to about 12 inches, allowing for more boisterous activities. The additional water allows for more play value, provides a cushion, and slows down the little ones. Parents can lounge in the water while the children play. More water, however, means more supervision and fencing if located outdoors.

A Different Perspective

Borrowing a designer’s eye can lead to a new perspective on building a water park. Before starting a design, Mariage considers the subtle factors that contribute to the pleasure level of the target audience. He begins his process at the point the decision is made by the client to visit the park and before arrival at the facility. This point is one of expectation for new and unpredictable fun. Seeing the quizzical shapes (the sculptures may be described this way) from a distance can enhance the anticipation.

As one reaches the play zone, the anticipation shifts to curiosity. How will the client engage the feature and what will the interaction be? Mariage strives for a first impression that results in awe. This wonderment, he says, helps to achieve the entertainment value of the feature. For kids, it is an escape into a different environment. For adults, the features are a heightened version of the water play of the past, with a fire hydrant, garden hose or sprinkler. For both it is a common uniting force and a level playing field.

To make the experience memorable, he works to create water diversity and abundance, agreeable touch/feel, happy colors, playful expressions and non-formal arrangements. Mariage believes this mix encourages freedom of exploration and stimulates the imagination while providing enough tension with the possibility of a soaking.

Mariage intentionally defers to little or no theme in his creations. “Allow the players to personalize the fantasy, and let each to his or her own interpretation,” he says.

Your Park

This is the philosophy of one designer, and it may or may not resonate with your own philosophy. The process developed over 40 years of business, though, is valid. Before you commit funds to your water park, you might want to ask yourself the following questions and pay attention to your answers:

1. What is it you want to create?

2. What is the look and feel of the park?

3. What sense does the material convey?

4. Will you generate an anticipation and sense of awe with your design?

5. Will the design provide entertainment?

6. Will your clients welcome interaction with your features?

7. Will the design encourage participation between children and adults, or groups?

8. Will the feature stand the test of time?

Mariage sums up the fascination with water, “We’re going to play with water given the parameters that gravity is going to take hold of it at some point. You expel it in the air, and it comes down. There’s a certainty of simplicity about what you may expect, so all you need is a ballet of flowing streams and an array of fantasy elements. Interject your body and explore the watery sensations, modify the flow, or hide under watery canopies. You want to get shockingly wet then frantically escape.”

Simple, isn’t it?

Linda Stalvey is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Parks & Rec Business, who gave up Washington, D.C., public relations to indulge her passion for parks, the environment and outdoor activities in Medina, Ohio. You can reach her via e-mail at