Tapping Into A Good Idea

By Donald T. McPherson

“The town of Wilton takes great pride in providing new and innovative recreation opportunities for our residents. It is enjoyed by children of various ages and has elements designed for children with physical challenges.”
--Art Johnson, Town Supervisor

Even a good idea sometimes takes time to become reality. In the town of Wilton, N.Y., about 30 miles north of Albany, the concept of adding a splash park to Gavin Park was first discussed in 2006. The LA Group, a landscape architecture and engineering firm, was then collaborating with the recreation department and town board on the preparation of a master plan for the well-known park. That master plan did not include a splash park. As the town continued to upgrade recreational programs and facilities over the next several years, the idea of a splash park gained momentum and worked its way up the list of park priorities.


Getting Their Feet Wet
In 2012, then Recreation Director Stephen Porto engaged The LA Group to focus on the playground area and complete a master plan for its expansion. This effort resulted in showing the size and location of a splash park for the first time. This effort included Porto researching vendors that participated in—and were pre-approved through—co-operative purchasing programs. The co-operative purchase approach assisted the town with timing and fixing prices for the improvements. Town leaders and staff members participated in researching, budgeting, and confirming this procurement process.

Porto and LA Group also researched the advantages/disadvantages of water “pass-through” systems compared to recirculating systems. Pass-through systems discharge the splash water to groundwater or a sewer system, thus depending on additional water every time a spray feature is activated. Recirculating systems collect, treat, and re-use the same water. The recirculating systems clearly save water volume. However, they require additional treatment equipment, staff training, and operational monitoring/testing to satisfy department of health regulations. Based on these investigations, the town’s first preference was for a pass-through system that discharges to groundwater. The LA Group investigated the soils and groundwater conditions and determined the soils conducive, and a discharge-to-groundwater system utilized a nearby stormwater infiltration basin in 2015.

Knee Deep
In an effort to control costs, the recreation department reached out and received support from the town highway department. Its skills and equipment were beneficial in planning and implementing the tasks of removing some existing improvements in the project area, relocating some storm piping and structures, and performing the rough layout and earthwork/grading needed to prepare the splash-park footprint. One of the most critical related improvements was extending municipal water service to the existing maintenance building, including the necessary valves, water meter, and other fittings.


Spring 2015 saw the splash-park design and related coordination and water-line installation proceed. Key considerations to achieve the mutual goal of a balanced and successful design solution included:

  • Visibility of the splash park so users could find it upon arriving at Gavin Park
  • Integrating the splash park with adjoining uses, such as the pavilion and playground
  • Programmatically integrating the splash park into the town’s summer-camp program
  • Planning the work of the splash park’s vendor in and around the concurrent efforts of the highway department and waterline contractor
  • Planning for blending peripheral needs, such as storage cubbies, rinsing shower, shade for spectators/parents, and perimeter fencing for safety and control of admissions
  • Reviewing an admission-fee structure for use of the splash park by residents and non-residents.

Initially, the recreation department considered flooding the splash-park pad in the winter for ice skating. This option was abandoned as complications arose with the anchor bolts of the spray features, the difficult logistics of moving the heavier features, winter storage space for the features, and especially the potential for wear and tear on the features.

Another component that was considered and then implemented was adding a concessions area in the adjacent maintenance building. The addition of concessions added to the enjoyment of the users, provided some additional revenue, and, more importantly, brought another staff person to monitor usage and safety.

As all of the above ideas were considered, the splash park gradually took shape. Overall, the vendor needed approximately four months to install the piping, concrete, and splash features. The majority of the pieces to the puzzle were coming into place by mid-September 2015. By then, the summer-camp program had ended and the splash-park season was in its later stages. The town staff decided to simply test the systems and work out the kinks before performing winter shut down rather than opening the splash park for full use in fall of 2015.

“The splash park is a great experience for young children and their parents,” says Steve Streicher, Town Councilman. “No standing water makes it safer and less of an insurance risk, as compared to a pool.”

The Gavin Splash Park opened to much fanfare and many happy children and parents in spring of 2016. The splash park has seen strong usage ever since; the park is in the third season of use.

The Details
As a reference for other recreation providers considering a splash park, current Recreation Administrator Mark Marino and Park Maintenance Supervisor John King answer some questions:

Q: What is the size of the splash park?
A: Approximately 4,500 square feet of wet area with an additional concrete apron.

Q: How much did the overall installation cost?
A: Approximately $450,000.

Q: How many spray/splash features does the splash park have and how much water does it use daily?
A: Approximately 30 spray/splash features and an average 18,000 gallons/day.

Q: How many staff members are on site?
A: Three, one at “gate/entrance,” one in concessions, and one roaming the spray pad.

Q: Did you develop a list of rules to enforce safe use of the equipment?
A: Yes, a lengthy list of rules is posted on-site and on our website.

Q: What is the general age group of the users?
A: Mostly eight and under.

Q: What do you recommend to other groups considering a splash park?
A: Allow space for support spaces like mechanicals, seating, and observation in dry areas; check water usage daily as a symptom of how it is operating; have a stripe with “no running” on the edge of the wet area; and, most importantly, stay up-to-date with technology and obtain a good warranty.

Q: It’s fully ADA-accessible, correct?
A: Yes, and we have waterproof wheelchairs available.

Donald T. McPherson, RLA, LEED AP, is a Senior Associate Principal at The LA Group, Landscape Architecture & Engineering, P.C., in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Spray parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields are only a portion of the land-design services offered by the 40 creative-design professionals at The LA Group. Reach McPherson at (518) 587-8100, or dmcpherson@thelagroup.com.