Spray parks–also known as wet playgrounds–are gaining in popularity. They offer safe fun for everyone, including people afraid of the water and those with disabilities, as well as younger children who want the security of being able to see their parents while maintaining independent play. An added benefit of spray parks is the low water depth, which eliminates the hazard of drowning.
If your park is considering developing or redesigning, there are a few things to consider. First, find a versatile system that allows for easy change-out of water features. Some manufacturers offer features that–with minimal effort–can be removed and relocated to another pipe connection in the ground. Interchangeable, quick connections allow for modifications to be made annually, which creates the feel of a “new” spray park for patrons to enjoy.
Colorful pirate ships as well as enormous birds, turtles, snakes, crocodiles and frogs are only a few of the dramatic play features that allow children’s imaginations to run free while enjoying the water. “Keep all of your play features on the ground or as close to the ground as possible, and avoid ladders, steps and slides because those areas have the highest level of injuries,” says Bill Mowery, recreation general manager of Hamilton County Parks in Ohio. “Also, create separate areas for small kids to play away from the bigger kids.”
Dramatic play features can be made of stainless steel or fiberglass composite. “Fiberglass composite holds up better under the constant exposure to chlorinated water, whereas stainless steel oxidizes, corrodes, and dents over time,” says Jim Cox, president of Rain-Drop, a company that provides consulting, design and spray ground equipment.
“Crocodile Steve and Sillier Serpent are two of our dramatic play features,” says Cox. “Kids are drawn to them because of the visual elements, and proper placement creates a flow to the spray ground so the children move around the playground rather than stay in one area.”
The Run Around
Surfacing is another venue that can lead participants from one location to another. A soft surface also can provide some safety. “Use safety surfaces–such as cushioned surfaces–around areas where someone could fall to the ground,” says Mowery.
Surfaces outside of fall zones can be created from concrete. “We have a brushed concrete surface because you don’t want it smooth. It has to be a non-slip surface,” says Cox.
Water Flow And Choreography
Three types of water flow also create dramatic play–regular flow, low flow and mist. The regular flow of water is defined as the most volume that can be delivered without hurting someone. This water is held in a surge tank where it is filtered, treated, and then circulated.
Regular flow also can be used with valves for children to take control of the flow of water. “Choosing activities that provide a good mix of features for kids is important,” says Scott Stefanc, project leader and manager with Water Technology, which specializes in universal design principles for engineering, planning, designing and programming pools and water parks. “Interactive features allow for the kids to turn things on and off, or redirect flow of waters, and are a part of good design.”
Low flow is typically water-to-waste–the water is drawn from the local water supply and flows into the drains and sewer system. Although this system is less expensive to install on the front end, the continuous water usage and sewer fees add up quickly, making it a poor example of resource conservation.
Misting systems offer yet another experience where the water is delivered in a fog or mist, and creates a different atmosphere for young children to enjoy.
To increase aesthetic appeal, a central processing unit (CPU) handles the choreography of the water at the spray park. Once a step, push button, or electronic-eye switch is activated, it puts in motion the choreography of the spray grounds. “The kids trigger the switch, and as a result, the CPU will cycle through a pre-arranged sequence of shooting out water from the various features,” says Cox. “Once the kids activate the system, the choreography of the water draws the children or participants around through the playground.”
Water Flow Features
The water sprays are in almost any shape and size imaginable. Spray pads shoot the water around the edges of the pad in the ground, creating an arch as the water tumbles down. Geysers shoot a large diameter and volume of water from the spray pad in the ground.
Above ground, bars that spray out water in a shower or waterfall include a variety of shapes, including hoops, arches, angled and straight. Arches spray the water to the ground, and can be used to create a tunnel of water for kids to pass through. Water sprayed from a central point creates a bell shape as it falls back down. There are even palm trees where the water rains down from the leaves.
A well-designed spray park should have plenty of shade, which is especially important in the toddler area because of recommendations against using sunscreen on young children. Parents also will appreciate a shady vantage point from which to sit and watch their children. And don’t forget to include shading in some play areas for the older kids.
When designing or redesigning a spray park, opt for one that allows for universal accessibility. You also must know who your patrons will be and how many people will visit daily in order to create a spray park design that accommodates your clientele.
“As early as possible, meet with key groups–the operator, engineer and architect, supplier and installer,” says Cox. “Define what is happening and what the time frames are for everything to occur.”
In addition to planning for ingress and egress, plan the flow of people through the spray grounds by using step, push button, or electronic-eye activation of a CPU program. Typically, spray grounds can be installed inside of 60 days, but give yourself some wiggle room to handle unforeseen problems before the grand opening.
For the long-term success of a spray park, facility managers and maintenance staff must be knowledgeable about the equipment, operations, proper water chemistry and maintenance, as well as how to handle the public and to follow proper health behaviors.
“It is very exciting to see a spray park come together,” says Cox. “The success of [it] comes down to planning–pre, during and post.” By planning, you can provide a safe and fun day at the park for your patrons.
Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for recreation businesses. Her upcoming book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, is due out March 2009, and can be pre-ordered through Amazon.com.