A Splashing Success

By Tom Drabelle

Not many municipal services are guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face, but on any given summer afternoon at Alligator’s Creek Aquatic Center in O’Fallon, Mo., laughter and shrieks of fun can be heard long before one gets to the entrance gate.

In 2001, the city replaced its 20-year-old swimming pool with two waterslides, a lazy river, a competition pool with lap lanes, a shallower pool with a beach entry, poolside water spouts for toddlers, and an interactive water playground. The change opened up opportunities for swimmers of all ages and abilities to enjoy the water.

“This is a great place for parents and grandparents to bring kids because there’s so much to do,” says Jakcee McCall, Aquatics/Fitness Recreation Coordinator. “Last year we added our third waterslide and installed tipping buckets over the lazy river. We have such a great team of lifeguards constantly watching over each of the pools and the waterslides, ready to act in case of emergency. Our lifeguards meet professional training standards, and every morning before the pool opens, they refresh their skills.”

Drawing A Crowd
In a city with nearly 83,000 residents and close to 4,000 subdivision pools, Alligator’s Creek, named in a contest by an elementary school student, stays above water financially, including cooperatively bidding with other cities to keep the cost of pool chemicals down.

To keep people coming to Alligator’s Creek, promotional days are offered several times a month. The promotions are as simple as free admission for dads on Father’s Day, or free admission for kids showing a report card with a GPA of 3.0 or better.

Also offered are family-focused events that keep both the pool and the concession stand busy. One of the top draws is the Dive-In Movie, which allows swimmers to lounge on inner tubes while they watch a popular family movie. This summer’s event will show the Disney hit Planes: Fire & Rescue. Shipwrecked Pirates Day is another annual tradition, which features games and giveaways, and the highlight is the Cardboard Boat Race. Participants make their own boats from cardboard boxes and frantically attempt to paddle way across the pool before sinking. With prizes for the Best Decorated Boat and the Fastest Boat, as well as the Titanic Award, the event is truly a spectacle that draws excited participants and curious viewers.

Now in its thirteenth year, the Alligator’s Creek Triathlon puts 300 participants to the test with a 300-yard serpentine swim, an 18.6-mile bike course, and a 5K run. This year, the event will expand and become part of a regional triathlon series, drawing participants from throughout the area. And, as the final event of the year, the family pup gets a chance to dog paddle with the big dogs at the Pool Paws Dog Swim.

Alligator’s Creek birthday parties also are a hit with residents. The facility can be rented on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings throughout the summer for private events, or residents can book a party with a server and pizza, cake, and beverages for 10 to 20 people anytime the pool is open. Last year, the pool hosted 43 parties, bringing in nearly 650 people, many of whom had never been to Alligator’s Creek before.

In addition to daily pricing, the center offers season passes and upgrades for members of the city’s indoor recreation complex—the Renaud Spirit Center—located four miles south of Alligator’s Creek. And, as home to the Torpedoes Swim Team, more than 200 area kids make Alligator’s Creek their pool of preference.

The heart of the city’s successful aquatic program is the “Learn to Swim” activity for all ages and levels of swimming ability. With classes for swimmers as young as six months old, the emphasis is on safety, a welcoming atmosphere, practice, and accomplishment at one’s own pace. Classes at Alligator’s Creek are scheduled in the morning and early evening, keeping the pool profitable at off-peak times.

“As a matter of personal safety, everyone should be able to swim,” says Cindy Springer, O’Fallon’s Director of Parks and Recreation. “We are offering the community a very important service in making our program flexible so that anyone can learn to feel confident and enjoy being in and around the water. But we also are introducing young children and their parents to the wonderful facilities and staff at Alligator’s Creek. We are finding that the kids that learn to swim at Alligator’s Creek become the kids that make Alligator’s Creek their go-to place in the summer as they get older.”

Getting The Word Out
With so many programs, the next step to success is filling them by getting the word out. A special problem in recent years with advertising has been a continuing drop in the number of newspapers serving the area.

To adapt, the city has been progressive in developing its own outlets for information. It’s a team effort, with parks and recreation specialists providing direction and feedback on creating marketing ideas and materials (print, digital, and video), all of which are developed entirely in-house with the communications team.

Each quarter, the city mails a newsletter paired with a 44-page catalog of parks and recreation programs, including Alligator’s Creek swimming lessons and events, to 47,000 city residences.

Colorful posters and fliers created by staff members are posted to promote classes, competitions, and special events.

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest allow staff to use social media to provide instant updates on programs and events.

The O’Fallon Update, a free weekly electronics newsletter, provides hot links to the website in addition to news announcements, and videos showing Alligator’s Creek activities are aired on the city’s website.

One of the most visible marketing tools is the eye-catching digital billboards that can be seen from the two major interstates that cross O’Fallon; the billboards show a roster of engaging images and announcements that appeal not only to residents but to passersby from neighboring cities. Again, the images are designed and created in-house.

Perhaps one of the best advertisements is Alligator’s Creek itself, which looks as clean and well-maintained as it did  15 years ago, thanks to a systemic program of city staff maintenance.

“We work hard to create great programs and provide a professional staff geared to exceptional customer service,” says Jeremy Wolfmeyer, recreation manager. “When it comes to measuring success, we do it by the numbers. But we can also measure how well we are doing just by looking at how much fun people are having. For staff, that truly is the ultimate measure of our success.”

Tom Drabelle is the Communications Director for the city of O'Fallon, Mo. Reach him at (636) 379-5508, or tdrabelle@ofallon.mo.us.