Splash pads seem to be all the rage in the Top of Utah.
South Ogden, Riverdale, Clearfield and North Salt Lake already have splash pads, while others are set to open this summer in Harrisville, Morgan and Kaysville. With what are soon to be seven locations, parents and youngsters are happy with the wet, low-cost fun.
But why are cities constructing and maintaining splash pads?
All cities interviewed agree that providing recreation for their residents is a high priority. Splash pads are seen as a good way to do that.
"I think that parks and recreation departments exist to provide a high quality of life for our residents and to bring people together," said Eric Howes, Clearfield director of community services. "I think that places like the aquatic center, parks and splash pads are popular locations that help us to develop a sense of community through shared participation in various activities."
"A splash pad gives families a reason to be together enjoying the outdoors," said South Ogden City Manager Matthew J. Dixon. "It helps provide a very desirable lifestyle for families and improves quality of life. I believe anything that brings families together, is affordable and fun is popular."
Splash pads especially appeal to younger residents.
"Kids and water are a natural fit," Howes said.
"We live in a terribly hot and dry desert state, and kids love to play in the water," said Bill Morris, Harrisville city administrator. "In the old days, kids got to play at the ol' swimming hole and in local canals. Now we are more developed and those places are being lost. Splash pads are a safer and affordable alternative for kids and families."
Free to use, not build
Of the area's seven splash pads, admission to six of them is free. Admission to the Clearfield splash pad includes access to its other four bodies of water, which are supervised.
Although splash pads are free to users, cities must pay to construct, operate and maintain them.
First, there's the cost to construct the splash pad. In Morgan, the cost is $160,000; in Harrisville, $213,000; in South Ogden, $250,000; in Riverdale, $271,000; in Clearfield, $300,000; in Kaysville, $311,000; and in North Salt Lake, $350,000.
Differing features mean differing construction costs.
Clearfield's 900-square-foot splash pad opened in 2006.
South Ogden's 40-foot-diameter splash pad with eight play features opened in 2008.
In 2010, Riverdale opened its 2,990-square-foot splash pad with 20 water features.
The 1,000-square-foot Harrisville splash pad recently opened and includes a funnel tree, arch bar, fire nozzle, arch jet, water bucket, water tent, stream jet and sit-and-soaker.
Morgan city's 4,900-square-foot splash pad might open in June with its nine aboveground and 17 in-ground water features.
Kaysville's splash pad is expected to open in August with 3,000 square feet of both above- and in-ground water features.
Pads vs. pools
Next, there are ongoing operation and maintenance costs. Most cities with splash pads expect to spend between $5,000 and $15,000 in such costs each year. This covers water treatment supplies, water sampling, routine cleaning of water features to limit hard-water deposits, clearing drains and filters, and mechanical repairs.
Each splash pad also is regularly monitored by local health departments.
City officials say the operation and maintenance of splash pads is similar to an outdoor pool, but for much less cost, because the volume of water is much less. In fact, many cities have chosen splash pads simply because they are a cheaper option than swimming pools.
When Harrisville updated its recreation plans several years ago, residents expressed great interest in having a water feature, Morris said.
"The city did not want to do a pool because they are much more expensive to maintain and operate," Morris said. "Splash pads cost much less in maintenance than a pool. They are safer than a pool and do not require on-site lifeguards."
"Moms with small children can go and sit while their children play without the worry of deep water," Morgan City Councilwoman Shelly Betz said. "There is no, or low, chance for drowning because splash pads are zero depth."
Splash pads may also be particularly attractive to children with disabilities, she said.
"Splash pads are perfect for children of all abilities," Betz said. "They are ADA-compliant. No one is left out of a splash pad."
And so far, no Top of Utah splash pad has had any major injuries reported by its users.
Getting their feet wet
When South Ogden's splash pad opened in 2008, Dixon said, the city didn't anticipate the high volume of use it got, nor its effect on parking, garbage and maintenance.
It's a common concern.
Riverdale has struggled with parking and crowds from not only Weber County, but also Davis, Morgan and Box Elder counties. It is not uncommon for Northern Utah splash pads to see hundreds of visitors each day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In South Ogden, estimates put crowds at 100 to 150 people per hour.
Harrisville, which opened its splash pad May 26, is already anticipating parking problems and has plans in place to expand the parking area this fall.
Riverdale City Administrator Larry Hansen said South Ogden strongly supported Riverdale's efforts to open a splash pad, mostly because it would alleviate demand on its own splash pad. Likewise, Riverdale is anticipating the effect Harrisville's splash pad could have.
Morgan city officials know county residents often visit splash pads in Weber and Davis counties, and want to provide a closer alternative.
In North Salt Lake, the city has struggled to keep bicycles and dogs out of the splash pad area that opened in June 2011.
Most public splash pads are not continually supervised by a staff. However, many may require parent supervision.
The Clearfield facility, which opened in 2006 and requires an entrance fee to access it and the other four bodies of water in the Clearfield Aquatic Center, is supervised. North Salt Lake city personnel are on duty when the splash pad is open, and Riverdale conducts random employee checks.
Generally, city rules require that all children younger than 14 who use the splash pad be supervised by an adult. However, the age limit in South Ogden is 10 and it is 8 in Clearfield.
Infants using splash pads should wear swim diapers, and children could benefit from wearing water moccasins.