The U.S. has one of the largest and most concentrated water park markets in the world, with over 1,200 water parks and new parks introduced each year. We love water parks: the thrill of heart-stopping waterslides, the mini vacation of drifting down a lazy river, and the singular joy of watching our kids explore water playgrounds and splash pads. But as we know, water parks walk a very careful line of safety when offering guests a place to have fun and a place to cool down in the water. Water adds a very unique set of safety challenges and concerns and while park operators do their best, not everything is preventable.
For instance, one of the earliest water parks in the country, Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark, opened its doors in May 1962 in Newberry Spring, California and closed in the summer of 2004. One of the main contributing factors to the Rock-A-Hoola shut down occurred when an employee took a late night ride down a waterslide during closed hours. The employee fell into a partially filled pool and was rendered paraplegic, receiving a $4.4 million payout from the Rock-A-Hoola. This started a tailspin the park couldn’t recover from and the park now stands abandoned as a popular spot for urban explorers to photograph.
Still, amusement park operators have a long history of working together to make the industry stronger. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) was founded in 1918 in order to give voice to all segments of the outdoor amusement industry. In 1920, the association was renamed to the National Association of Amusement Parks to promote safety among amusement parks. They continued to do so past the rickety eras of the Great Depression and the cumulative wear and tear of World War II, which undoubtedly helped foster the growth of theme parks in America.
With the growth of water parks, a separate set of unique challenges within the amusement industry quickly required a dedicated platform to address water safety issues. Thus, the World Waterpark Association was founded in 1982 inspired by George Millay (the “Father of the Water Park”) who designed the original SeaWorld. The WWA focuses specifically on the operational safety needs of the water park industry. WWA continues to create and host events and programs like the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson in an effort to make sure children all over America are safer in and around water. See last week's blog post on the history of WWA's most prestigious safety award, the Kelly Ogle Memorial Safety Award.
This aspect of safety is just one reason why we love working with the water park industry (we'll be sure to write about more reasons in this summer's blog series!). It is truly exciting to be part of an industry that fosters fun and safety for our communities and we look forward to a future with continuously innovative ideas for safer recreation. (Read about our work with NSF-50 to create safer splash pads.)