Water Park Adventure

By Eric Mehl

It’s finally summer—water park season is here! If you are like me, the director of Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation (CCPR) in Indiana, you’re looking to fill your park or attraction with happy and safe guests who want to come back for more.

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The original intent of CCPR’s water park, aptly named “The Waterpark,” was to serve as a local attraction for Carmel residents. While a high cost-recovery goal was always planned for the facility, prior to opening its gates in May 2007, The Waterpark—along with the adjacent community center—was given a 100-percent cost-recovery mandate. Therefore, attendance and smart business decisions became even more critical.

This mandate drove staff members to think bigger and bolder than at a typical community water park. Therefore, after the first five years, the department began the process of swapping out standard features in order to build The Waterpark into a regional destination. CCPR needed to willingly invest in and provide the community with opportunities they couldn’t receive within surrounding communities.

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Budgeting For Change
Innovation is one of CCPR’s core values, so the forethought given to additions and expansions has paid off. During original construction, infrastructure was included, knowing that updates and/or additions would be needed ideally every three to five years to keep the public interested.

When a new addition or renovation is deemed necessary, staff members consider the following:

· Are there potential useable spaces in the park to add an attraction/amenity?

· Is the attraction/amenity unique to the surrounding communities?

· How does the change impact the customer’s overall experience?

· Will the attraction/amenity help draw in new customers, thus helping increase ROI?

· Is there a balance of exciting attractions/amenities to service multiple demographics?

· Are the amenities inclusive to all ages, levels, and abilities and considered universal design?

While not every park agency has the funding and means to update its water park on CCPR’s timetable, spending time planning and researching future possibilities is still an important and worthwhile investment for long-term success.

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Considering Useable Spaces
We all have space that isn’t being utilized the way it was first intended and that has potential for increased revenue. One of the first spaces looked at within The Waterpark was an open lawn area. Original designs recommended a “Teen Spray Pad” attraction. While that seemed like a good idea, as 2012 approached, staff members felt that a spray pad may not be robust enough to attract a wide-ranging demographic.

To be successful, staff members and the park board needed to be bold in their approach. After research and site visits, they proposed installing a FlowRider, a simulated surf machine with waves rushing at 30 mph. The open lawn space was the perfect size for a double FlowRider, pump house, and restroom facility, and supporting venue space for spectators. With a total project investment of just over $2 million, the first wave simulator in Indiana was opened. Who ever thought one would talk about surfing in Indiana?

During the 2012 season, day-pass sales and revenue increased about 45 percent from the previous year, and The Waterpark experienced its highest overall attendance numbers. That season, CCPR saw visitations from 73 of Indiana’s 92 counties, 48 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 14 countries. While the park saw an increased interest in teen attendance, it also observed an unexpected surge in adult riders. Riding had become a family experience.

The FlowRider is a skill-based activity. The community has fully embraced the attraction, even creating a group of riders locally known as CCPR’s “Flow Family,” with members ranging in age from 13 to some in their 60s. To this day, the Flow Family still helps create a buzz around the feature by promoting it to local friends, family, and other flow boarders they meet while visiting other FlowRider attractions around the world.

To keep enthusiasm high, CCPR also has implemented Adventure Aquatics, which includes open flow—a free time in the evening when the public can practice skills—as well as providing group and private lessons. Guests keep coming back to polish and show off newfound skills.

To ensure all park visitors feel valued and welcomed regardless of their abilities or differences, CCPR has built a very successful, adaptive FlowRider program. Thanks to this award-winning program, youth, teens, and adults with disabilities have learned how to surf. CCPR was the first park to offer an adaptive division within the national FLOW Tour surfing competition. With the adaptive FlowRider program, these participants have access to a fun and inclusive environment where they can learn a new skill and build confidence.

From Diving To Climbing
The addition of the FlowRider has set a precedent for future additions and changes that will focus on being adventure- and/or destination-oriented.

At the close of each water park season, staff members assess all amenities and their remaining useful life. In 2013, it was determined that a diving board that was original to the park needed major repairs. Through data kept from “save reports,” it was also determined that the diving board was the number-one cause of lifeguard rescues.

Traditionally, a major oversight/issue with diving boards is a lack of height requirement. That makes it difficult to assess a guest’s swimming abilities prior to jumping into the deepest area of the pool. Over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, staff members performed a total of 80 rescues as a result of diving board use. Consider what that number would be today, five years later!

In light of those findings, CCPR quickly looked at replacement options to fill the adventure need and public want, as well as to provide a safer amenity for guests. The park looked for an attraction that would reduce rescue needs by requiring guests to swim to the attraction rather than merely walking to the edge of the board, jumping in, and hoping to be able to swim to the edge of the pool. After some debate, management proposed a new solution for the replacement of the diving board.

The diving board’s replacement was a 16-foot-tall AquaClimb climbing wall. The wall was wide enough to allow two climbers at a time, servicing more guests than a diving board. Now, guests of all ages are presented with the challenge of making it to the top and slapping their hands on a panel to prove it. The line is now booming with kids and adults who want to tackle “The Wall.” So far, youths and teens have proven to be more successful than adults at making it to the top.

The added safety operations and this new amenity helped reduce rescues in the pool by roughly 77 percent the following season. The total investment for this project was $67,500, a reasonable investment for safety and added adventure.

Planning For The Future
CCPR continues to invest in safe, exciting, and revenue-minded changes to The Waterpark. Over the years, and since adding the FlowRider and AquaClimb, The Waterpark has seen the addition of rentable cabanas for more family comfort, bringing in roughly $40,000 to $50,000 in revenue each season. The park has also retrofitted a custom play structure (Tropical Tree House) in the main pool area that is focused on the 3- to 10-year-old demographic, added a 40-gallon dump bucket, renovated the main entrance, and expanded the concessions areas to be more consumer-friendly. It’s no surprise that more changes are in the pipeline. Interested in what these changes entail? Stay tuned to CCPR’s website at carmelclayparks.com or follow the park on social media at @CarmelClayParks.

Eric Mehl is the Recreation & Facilities Director for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation in Indiana. Reach him at emehl@carmelclayparks.com.