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Making a Splash at Campgrounds With Water Park Attractions

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

For many of us, there’s nothing better than a peaceful campground by a lake, a place to escape the stresses of life while taking in the beauty of nature.

But these days, campground owners are becoming increasingly more aware that it’s not enough to offer quiet lakefront camping.

To entice families with children or grandchildren, park operators are investing in unique water toys and attractions – from spraygrounds to floating water slides, floating trampolines and floating rock-climbing walls. Some parks are even offering “Water Wars” games, in which opposing teams, housed in clubhouse-like battle stations, use catapults to hurtle water balloons at their fellow campers.

“Not everyone fishes,” said Don Robinson, owner of Lake Chippewa Campground in Hayward, Wisconsin, as he explained why he was adding a Water Wars game to his park, which is located along a scenic lake in Wisconsin’s North Woods.

Lake Chippewa Campground already offers canoe, kayak, power paddle, rowboat and pontoon boat rentals, plus an 18-hole miniature golf course. “But Water Wars gives families another [entertainment] option,” Robinson said.

Such is the competitive nature of today’s campground business. But parks are finding that their investments in unique water attractions not only give them a competitive edge over their peers, but entice their guests to stay for longer periods of time.

This is exactly what happened at the Mount Rushmore KOA in Hill City, South Dakota. The park’s water attractions include two swimming pools, a 150-foot-long waterslide and a splash park with interactive water features that it installed two years ago. “Families often come here and let their kids decompress for a day. Then they go out and see the attractions we have in the area,” said Josh Daiss, general manager of the 500-site park.

Daiss, in fact, said water-related activities are particularly appealing to families and grandparents, who are always on the lookout for fun places to camp that can keep the kids entertained.

Campgrounds in resort locations in the Sunbelt are also investing in more and more water attractions. “I think that any of your successful parks in warm climates know that [unique water attractions] are an important feature,” said Barb Krum, director of marketing and public relations for Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

In addition to having five freshwater lakes and eight-tenths of a mile of oceanfront shoreline, Ocean Lakes has a splashground with interactive water features designed for children 12 and younger, including giant buckets that fill up and dump their water, supersoaker water guns and a waterfall that children can play in. The splashground also has an area for young children with water spritzers. “They look like gum drops,” Krum said. “It’s just enough to play and splash in.”

Of course, some campgrounds, such as those in the Wisconsin Dells, have had major water park attractions for years. But the concept of blending major water attractions with campgrounds is spreading across the country. Several campgrounds in the KOA and Jellystone Park chains now have major water attractions, including the KOAs at Big Timber, Montana, and Hayward, Wisconsin; the Jellystone Park in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, which built a $2 million water park last year; and the Jellystone Park in Williamsport, Maryland, which added two 400-foot water slides two years ago.

“Our reservations are up 40 percent from last year,” said Bob Ryan, owner of the 160-site Jellystone Park in Quarryville, who attributed the gains to his campground’s new water park.

“The campground owner who has the most toys wins,” said Bud Styer, who owns four family campgrounds in Wisconsin, three of which – Merry Mac’s Campground in Merrimac, River Bend RV Resort in Watertown and Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi – contain water park features.

Styer has gone so far as to build his own ponds in an effort to accommodate some of the campground industry’s latest water toys, including floating log roll games; “The Summit,” a 15-foot inflatable waterslide; and 6-by-20-foot mats that float, he said, “like magic carpets.”

“Over the years, we’ve looked at how people use things. If it’s 90 degrees F outside and you’ve got fun stuff, you’re keeping the kids busy,” he said.

Parks also find that if they offer enough water-related attractions, they can lure more guests, even if their parks are in relatively remote locations, like Cherrystone Family RV Resort in Cheriton, Virginia, which is located in the middle of farmland on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, roughly two hours from Williamsburg.

The park added a splashground this year, which complements its mini-boats, paddleboats and Water Wars attraction. “We’re excited to see how (the splash park) is going to be. But I know people are going to love it,” said Mable Harrison, welcome center manager of the 700-site resort.

Even relatively small attractions, like floating trampolines, have become “extremely popular” with families, said Carol Higgins, a crew leader with the 377-site Odetah Campground in Bozrah, Connecticut.

Higgins recalled one time when the park’s floating trampoline briefly had to be taken out of the water for repairs. “Oh, my goodness,” she said. “People were so upset. Some said they came to the park specifically to use it.”

Needless to say, Odetah and other parks across the country are keeping their floating trampolines and other water toys readily available for guest use.

“As long as kids love water, [unique water attractions] will be popular and help families make a decision on where they’re going to spend their vacation,” said Rebecca Baumgardner, recreation director for Billings, Montana-based KOA.

Recognizing the growing allure of water features, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds is improving the search capabilities of its website to help consumers identify parks with unique water features and other unusual amenities that are referenced in the parks’ online profiles.

RV enthusiasts can also find campgrounds with unique water features by checking the Web sites of major campground chains, such as Kampgrounds of America and Jellystone Park Camp Resorts and by running Google searches pairing words like sprayground, splash park, waterslide, floating trampoline and Water Wars with “campground” and the state you plan to visit.

For a comprehensive, but by no means complete, listing of campgrounds with waterpark features – as well as contact information and a brief description of each parks’ features – see the Web Exclusive story “Campground Water Parks Make a Splash.”

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