This year, as with every year, millions of people will travel long distances for the opportunity to float down a lazy river, careen through a body slide, and enjoy all the other splashy attractions of a water park. But while their appeal to fun-seeking road trippers is obvious, water parks are also increasingly serving as centers for community recreation. More and more cities are getting into the water park business by running facilities for the public’s benefit.
When you think about it, it’s a logical move. Cities already operate public pools. Cities already operate parks and playgrounds. What could possibly be controversial about (essentially) combining the two?
A lot, actually. Water parks are expensive to build and operate, with funding often coming from increased sales taxes. To critics, it’s a frivolous waste of taxpayer money.
Public vs Private
A water park can be anything from a sprawling theme park (like the ones featured on our list of best water parks in the country) to a swimming pool with one lonely water slide. As you might expect, municipal water parks tend to be on the smaller side. They have fewer attractions, and the ones they do have tend to be the standard variety – lazy rivers, dump buckets, kiddie playgrounds, obstacle courses, maybe a wave pool.
Municipal water parks are usually more geared toward residents than tourists. While they welcome everyone, they often offer cheaper admission for locals. Outsiders might not even know a municipal park exists, since it’s unlikely that management runs any sort of ads or other promotions. Finally, while many commercial water parks are connected to extensive resorts, many municipal parks don’t even have a hotel nearby where out-of-towners can stay while they use the park.
In short, public water parks generally don’t belong in the same category as Hurricane Harbor, Wet ‘n Wild, or other large privately owned water parks. They generally aren’t tourist traps, but relatively modest facilities for local families. Of course, there are always exceptions. Take for example Cascade Bay, an outdoor park run by the city of Eagan, Minnesota that’s large enough to draw crowds from all over.
It’s easy to see the appeal of municipal water parks. Just like standard public pools, they offer good, wholesome, affordable fun for area residents, especially youngsters. Whereas a private party may not see enough profit to open up a water park in the area, the city may recognize the benefit to the community as a whole. Proceeds from admission can go back into paying the park’s operating costs, or be applied toward other things.
The argument against building a particular public water park usually boils down to cost. Opponents are often skeptical that the water park will bring in as much money as claimed. They argue it’s too much to spend for something that benefits a small segment of the population. They see other, more modest recreational facilities as being adequate. Or they just don’t believe it’s government’s role to provide services that have traditionally been offered by private businesses.
Where do you stand in this debate? Who knows, maybe one day your city will put the question to you in the form of a ballot initiative, as many other cities have done.