When the days get warm, some head to the ocean. Others prefer the mountains. But in Farragut, sun lovers flock to the McFee Park splash pad.
Farragut’s first splash pad was built in 2011. A larger, splashier splash pad opened in 2016, and every spring, the town is inundated with calls from eager users asking when the splash pad will open.
The answer is always the same – the last Saturday in April. That’s why Farragut Parks & Rec and Public Works staff are diligently working to make sure every squirter, sprayer and splasher will respond appropriately when the buttons are pushed on April 27.
It’s no small task. The first step is to clean the 4,000-gallon water tank. Sequoyah Pools is contracted by the town to scrub the tank, change the sand in filters and replace worn filter parts. Then, Parks & Rec staff remove the winter caps from the water features and replace them with spray nozzles.
Once the tank is refilled, the system is tested and Public Works staff replaces any worn valves. They also caulk cracks in the concrete, get rid of weeds and pressure wash. Parks & Rec replaces the solenoids. The department hires and trains part-time assistants to help with splash-pad maintenance.
The biggest challenge of operating the splash pad is getting the chlorine level just right. Last summer, the town went through 350 gallons of liquid chlorine.
Maintaining all the moving parts once the splash pads open is also a challenge. Filters require daily cleaning, and it’s not a pretty job, says Parks & Athletics Coordinator Lauren Cox.
Maintenance is particularly painful when it disappoints splash-pad users. The facility closes for an hour each day around 2 p.m. for filter cleaning and backwashing, but some closures last longer. McFee Park boasts the country’s first installation of the Water Journey Odyssey, a water feature that’s especially popular with toddlers. Because the manufacturer is still troubleshooting the product, it was replaced last year and will be replaced again this year. (Fortunately, the feature is still under warranty.) The entire splash pad will be closed the week of May 6 because of the heavy equipment required for the work.
Last year, the Parks department spent a total of 192 hours on splash-pad prep and maintenance. But the time and effort are worth it because people enjoy it so much, Cox says.
“I get why everyone loves it. There are so many different elements – you just have to go to a different spot for a different experience. Plus, it’s a safe place for kids to play. And parents appreciate that it’s free and it’s clean. Clean bathrooms are important.”
Cox reminds users that dogs aren’t allowed on the splash pad. Because the shade structures are meant to be shared, bringing in tables and chairs for private parties is not allowed. Pop-up tents are also not allowed.
“We just want this to be a place where everyone can relax and have a good time,” says Cox. “That’s our goal for all Farragut parks.”
Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.