Some need it hot: Cool summer is bummer for waterparks

News-DemocratAugust 26, 2013 

"It's difficult to be a waterpark in the Midwest," says the Collinsville Area Recreation District's Elizabeth Davis. "You never know what the weather will be."

The extreme sway in temperatures between this summer and last has been reflected in attendance at the park district's waterpark, Splash City. Davis, the park district's marketing and communications director, said the numbers are down so far this year as the unseasonable cooler temperatures and rain earlier in the season kept more customers away.

"It's been rough," Davis said. "It's been very hard on us here."

From May through July, attendance was 40,299 -- down from the 57,549 who visited Splash City during that same span a year ago. In terms of revenue, Splash City generated $413,068 from May through July, down from the $503,535 the waterpark made in between May 1 and July 31 a year ago. The waterpark's expenses since the beginning of the fiscal year, which began in May, totals $260,403. Last year, the expenses recorded between May through July totaled $305,360. However, the cost for the usual maintenance to be done during the upcoming off-season are expected to increase current expenses.

In Grafton, attendance has also been down at Raging Rivers Waterpark. Group sales director Connie Clark said the Madison County waterpark was also affected by flooding. High river water forced Raging Rivers, which is off the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, to close during the first 10 days in June.

"Basically attendance has been lower," Davis said. "The weather has definitely impacted it."

The World Waterpark Association in Overland Park, Kan. reports that waterslides and other water-based outdoor venues throughout the Midwest, East coast, South as well as parts of Europe have reported a down year for attendance.

"Traditionally, good days for waterparks are in the high 80s with clear skies, but the weather has not been warm enough to make it attractive to be outside and enjoy a waterpark environment," said the association's park member development director Aleatha Ezra.

According to the National Weather Service, the St. Louis metro area has not reached 100 degrees this summer. Average high temperatures recorded during May, June, July and so far in August have not exceeded 86 degrees.

Davis said the park district's records indicate that metro-east temperatures have not averaged above 95 degrees all summer. The park district's statistics also show that there have only had two weeks when the temperature averaged 92 degrees. Last year, the park district recorded seven weeks where the temperatures averaged above 93 degrees.

In comparison, the National Weather Service recorded 21 total days of 100 degrees or higher in the region last summer, which began with a stretch of 10 consecutive triple-digit temperature readings from June 28 through July 7.

"Usually this area sticks around the 80s at the coolest, and we've had some days in the 70s," Davis said. "That definitely has not helped us. But it's good weather to go to the zoo or go biking or walking, but not great weather for waterparks."

Davis said that on days when the weather kept attendance low, staff were sent home early.

"There were a couple of days when the waterpark wasn't as full, as a way to decrease the impact of lost revenue, we let staff go home because we didn't need as many staff," she said. "I think that maybe there was only one day when we didn't open because of unseasonably cool weather. The rain also impacted that. We did have couple storms and rainy days when we didn't open at all."

"We looked the day before to see what the forecast was to staff ourselves," Clark said.

Temperatures reached 90 degrees last week for the first time in weeks. The National Weather Service's forecast calls for hotter conditions with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees.

Clark said she hopes this is a sign of a warmer end to a cool summer.

"We hope we can end the season with a bang with the warmer weather," she said. "We hope to end on a good note at the waterpark."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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