Wilder splash pad’s popularity brings unintended consequences: ‘We shouldn’t have to supervise’

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City Center Park crowd at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22. Photo by Haley Parnell.

The new addition of a splash pad in City Center Park last year has drawn more people to the Wilder facility than the city anticipated this summer.

While it was initially designed to be a water feature at a dry park, city officials say it has morphed into a regional waterpark-like attraction.  

The park, located behind the city building on Licking Pike, added the splash park to the existing playground last June, along with sand volleyball courts, a concession building equipped with bathrooms, shelters with tables, and a lawn area for events.

Because the park is free and geographically situated where people can access it easily, Wilder City Administrator Terry Vance said it draws in crowds from all around Northern Kentucky — not just Wilder. 

City Center Park crowd at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22. Photo by Haley Parnell.

“We didn’t plan it and design it to accommodate the crowds that it’s getting,” Vance said. 

Vance said the parking lot is full on any given day that the weather is above 80 degrees. He estimates a revolving number of 100 to 500, though he said there have been up to 1,000 people on heavier traffic days at the park.

“I think that we have experienced, since it has been open, a need for rules, and rules, and rules, and more rules,” Vance said, “And some of these rules are necessary because we didn’t think about them, and some of them are just common sense. And I think that is kind of the issue that we’re having.”

Here are some of the issues Vance said the park has experienced so far:

  • Smoking in the park despite “no smoking” signs
  • Bringing dogs into the splash pad
  • Throwing water balloons that cause litter and clogs the water filtration system
  • Bringing glass into the park
  • Not disposing of sanitary items in the bathrooms
  • Littering in the park
  • Getting sand from the volleyball courts into the splash pad
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“Some group brought water balloons. I would never have thought that water balloons would be a problem,” Vance said. “They are because when they bring water balloons, the balloons go down the drains and clog up the system. You wouldn’t think people would bring dogs, but people walk the dogs, and they want to go over and get into the water. Those are health violations. Those are things we just can’t tolerate.”

Trash pulled from the filtration system. Photo provided by the city of Wilder.

The park utilizes one Public Works employee to get the park ready to open at 10 a.m. each morning. Vance said the amount of cleanup needed to open the park has become a burden on the department.

“But the fine-tuning cleanups, the cleanup of the bathrooms just because people aren’t putting things in the right places and throwing things on the floor. They’re turning on water faucets and leaving them on,” Vance said. “Those kinds of things are aggravating for us in that there should be more adult supervision. We shouldn’t have to supervise. We almost need a full-time attendant out there, and we didn’t anticipate that.”

Vance said he isn’t blaming anyone in particular for the rules that have been broken because people can enter the park from many different entrances. There is currently no one place for the city to corral people and tell them what the rules are.

“The kinds of things we’re asking is if people would just use common sense and sort of treat the property and treat the area as if it were their own or leave it in better condition than they came,” Vance said. “That’s the kind of thing; if they do that and continue to do that, we will be ok.”

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What does all of this mean for the future of the park?

Vance said the first step the city might choose to take is fencing off certain areas within the park, like the sand volleyball courts, to help keep the areas clean.

“Some of this is our mistake,” Vance said. “We put the sand volleyball court close by, and kids love to play in the sand. The problem is that they bring the sand on their bodies or in buckets, sometimes over to the splash pad. That’s a big no-no. We don’t currently have it fenced off for that. But we may have to do that.”

Sand volleyball court at City Center Park. Photo by Haley Parnell.

The second step would be isolating an entrance point and charging people to use the park. Vance said the city would check through all their options before doing this.

He said there isn’t a winning financial situation because the city would have to pay someone to sit at the park and regulate the entrance.

The city currently uses shelter rentals and the concession stand to offset the cost of the park.

Park shelter. Photo by Haley Parnell.

Vance encourages people to say something if they see something that seems off. If you see someone littering, smoking, or not following park rules, say something to the person or the city staff.

“I think if everybody chips in, it’ll stay better, it’ll stay that way, and we won’t have to take the next step,” Vance said.