In today's entertain-me world, local park and recreation experts say specialty pools are making a big splash in terms of luring in visitors.
"We needed something to make people come to the pool," said John Cooper, park superintendent for Clarksburg.
Prior to installing its first water slide in 1991, Cooper said attendance -- and revenue -- at the 23-year-old Veterans Memorial Park pool had dipped. It was so low that admission revenue was barely breaking even with operational costs of more than $50,000 per year for just maintenance.
Nationally, Cooper said many parks have closed their pools for that reason. "Most public pools were losing money."
While he wouldn't exactly call the aquatic area a money-maker, Cooper said the $190,000 slide increased attendance by 30 to 40 percent in its first couple of years and has helped keep attendance higher overall, with 22,000 visits during summer 1999. That was enough to allow the park board to pay back the loan it took out for the slide within six or seven years.
"It gave people something else to do at the pool rather than splash in the water or lay in the sun."
Capitalizing on what has been a good move, Cooper said the park installed a second, $10,000 slide in 1995 and is opening a major new attraction for young children this summer -- a levy-funded, $212,000 interactive, water play pool.
The 60-by-90-foot area replaces a much smaller baby pool. It will feature zero-degree entry, in which the shallow end slopes gradually from zero inches to an 18-inch center, and an activity center that has a number of sprays and hoses that children can use to manipulate water flow.
"We're trying to keep up with the trend in aquatic recreation," Cooper said, an effort that has allowed the pool area to turn a small profit since 1991.
So is Upshur County, where the county commission approached the park department with a proposal to install a $100,000-plus water slide there.
"We're at the point of exploring what is out there," said Amy Hall, county recreation and youth services director. "Everybody wants to be entertained a lot more now."
Upshur County Recreation Park has a v-shaped, Olympic-sized pool and a baby pool, but Hall said it is difficult to get enough attendance revenue to meet pool expenses. For the last several years, the county commission has been making up the difference.
Officials are touring other municipal aquatic facilities, including Clarksburg's, and anticipate a slide could be added to their pool as early as 2001 if community support is forthcoming.
Other area parks are also riding the attendance-seeking wave. Marion County Park and Recreation has had a zero-degree wave pool, which replicates a beach-like water motion, for more than a decade at its East Marion Park. There is also a water slide there, said Cathy Hall, bookkeeper and secretary.
"There are always kids on it," she said of the slide consistently generating attendance.
In the Harrison County town of Shinnston, City Manager Jeff Silka said officials are exploring similar ways of making their future pool area a draw. The city received a $1 million Economic Development Initiative Grant through U.S. Senator Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., to develop the pool and a park to house it on its east side.
"It's the top choice of what to do in the summer," Silka said of what city residents have been requesting of politicians. The city had a traditional pool which closed in 1991 as it became financially unfeasible to maintain.
City officials are looking at pool designs. While Silka is pretty sure the trendy zero-degree entry will be a part of Shinnston's package, he is unsure what special features it will have. He did say there will be something that makes the pool unique.
"We just haven't decided what the innovation will be."
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.