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Into the Wild: A Safari Splash Adventure

The Aquatic Expansion of the Fort Worth Zoo
by Chris Thomas and Micaela Garcia/Fountain People

When the Fort Worth Zoo received a private donation to create a safari-themed splash park to attract more guests, zoo officials began looking to add a splash playground to the park. Dunaway Associates was contacted as the landscape architect. Measuring 14,000 square feet, the Safari Splash pad attraction was completed in 2015.
This feature, designed for ages 2-5, has two small slides, a jaguar, zebra, and snake that sprays.
Children love to huddle underneath this feature as it creates mushroom-shaped sheet of water. Sounds bounce around inside the water dome and create echoes.
This young patron spins the top, spraying anyone that comes near.
A large 300-gallon water tank erupts with 360 degree splash every few minutes.
A large 300-gallon water tank erupts with 360 degree splash every few minutes. Children can access the water slides from two different routes as lifeguards await them to ensure children slide down safely.
A wide variety of spray features appeal to different age groups and abilities, creating a well-rounded play experience for all.
Standing 15 Feet tall, the baby giraffe sprays water on patrons as they slide down.
Concessions provide refreshments and cabanas provide places to relax & retreat from the sun.
Kids climb up and slide down and the elephant sprays water over its back.

In 2011, the Fort Worth Zoo received a generous private donation to add a safari-themed splash park to attract more visitors. Zoo officials began looking to add a splash playground and contacted architect firm, Dunaway Associate. At 14,000 square feet, the Safari Splash pad attraction opened to the public in the summer of 2015.

In May 2019, the Fort Worth Zoo was ranked number four by USA Today's 10 Best Zoos across the nation. Boasting approximately 1 million visitors annually, the center continues to introduce new exhibits and attractions yearly. With over 7,000 animals in natural habitats, 11 current exhibits and other zoo attractions, learning and entertainment abound. With a mission of strengthening the bond between humans and the environment through three cornerstones of conservation, education and entertainment at the zoo is a popular destination for friends and families all year round.

Static trends in summer ticket sales demonstrated evidence that traffic declined due to the heat. A new attraction was needed to solve this problem. Searching for an original and innovative way to drive summer traffic to the zoo while satisfying guest curiosity was the goal. Keeping in mind the mission of conservation, education and entertainment, the new attraction had to encompass these key elements.
After evaluating the resources available to the institution, a piece of land within the zoo property was considered as a viable option. This property hadn't been utilized before. An animal exhibit was never a possibility due to unsuitable exhibit qualifications. An uneven landscape offered complications to any possible structure built, not to mention, the property's location was placed in a moderate floodplain. These factors prevented any construction of an attraction up until this point. At the time, the square footage was purposeless, unused and ignored. Despite these difficulties, this area of land was examined as a possible option for the placement of a new attraction. The flooding presented a unique challenge as to what entertainment feature should be added to the park. The functionality and best usage of this space demanded a creative solution.

Research began with inquiring at other zoos to determine an applicable solution to the problem. The answer presented itself in the form of a splash pad. Not only did a splash pad offer a distinctive advantage to the park, but also a unique remedy to the summer heat driving away visitors. A water feature would provide a fun way for guests to cool off while still being able to enjoy the zoo atmosphere. A splash pad would offer solutions to two of the main problems, such as the uneven terrain and relief from the summer heat. By building the splash pad above the floodway and floodplain, the harmful effects of the floodwaters would be avoided. At the worst, the splash pad would be equipped to weather the floodwaters due to its inherent water functions. Plus, fun water features provide an entertaining, refreshing escape for visitors.

Team Assembly
The design and development were provided by Dunaway Associates as the lead designer and Nader Design as the Building Architect, while WET Engineering functioned as the splash play feature designer. Water Odyssey by Fountain People supplied the theming, waterslides and multi-level interactive play structure. Water Odyssey's scope of work for the project was developed and submitted to the shade and water feature construction supplier, Benchmark Enterprises on October 13, 2011. The main site construction team, Fain Group, was hired and assembly began for the creation and installation of a world class aquatic playground. A gracious donation from a Fort Worth family made the installation and creation of the park possible.

Design Intent
Water playground designs, renderings, product cutsheets and specifications of the pad were exchanged between Water Odyssey, Dunaway Associates and the zoo throughout the development and design process. Edits and revisions ensued until the perfect design was created and approved. The Safari animal-theme was an easy design choice as it fits in perfectly with the zoo atmosphere.

With over 10 custom animal themed water features and over 25 products placed around the 14,000 square foot splash pad, there are more than enough opportunities to keep visitors entertained and distracted from the Texas heat. Among the highly-themed spray features, Water Odyssey developed a custom 30-foot tall mother and baby giraffe that is the centerpiece of the splash pad. Surrounding this giant giraffe pair is a safari themed multi-level climbing structure completed with four slides, tipping buckets, and themed elements that spray. Water features that spray up from the ground and animal-themed features that also spray water are located throughout the water play area. The splash pad includes a large water dump feature entertaining guests with anticipation for a 300-gallon 360 degree splash every five minutes, offering discovery and stimulation. The variety of water play components provide an array of play experiences encouraging diverse interaction across the pad. This project is considered one of Water Odyssey's biggest productions to date.

Community Results
Since the installation and opening of the Safari Splash pad, the summer guest attendance has sky-rocketed. The grand opening was held on May 8th, 2015. Admission to the park is an extra five dollars along with regular zoo admission tickets, which can be purchased at the park entry. Before the splash pad was introduced into the park, the summer attendance rate was on severe decline. Post opening, attendance and revenue in the Safari splash park greatly increased due to the popularity of the feature. Ticket sales continue to bring in a high volume of guests who also purchase nearby food options, snacks, and merchandise products.

After the opening, to date, it seems that the only issue is the pad's popularity. The pad is considered a huge success within zoo. However, from this success, the high traffic has posed concern about the available space. Alexis Wilson, the Director of Communications at the Fort Worth Zoo, stated that the availability of space for the high influx of people is causing issues with accommodation. There is a dedicated space available for patrons to sit and relax but the guests continually fill up the park.

The high penetration in the attraction came as a welcome surprise as the number of people continue to exceed expectation. The park addition not only achieved the goal of increasing summer traffic, but also represents another embodiment of education and entertainment. The one of a kind, custom-built Safari-themed spray park brings not only a fun opportunity to play, but also a refreshing relief to the guests from the sweltering heat.

Team List
Design Development Lead Architect - Dunaway Associates
Design Development Building Architect- Nader Design
Design Development Splash Feature Engineer - WET Engineering
Main Site Construction and Buildings - Fain Group
Construction Shade Install and Water Feature Install - Benchmark Enterprises, LLC
Children's Interactive Play Structure and Waterslides - Fountain People Water Odyssey
Furniture - Zoo Purchase
Lockers - American Locker Security Systems
Pool Coatings - Acapulco Decks
Filtration Equipment - Sunbelt Pools
Chemical and Pumps - Sunbelt Pools
Chemical Controllers - Becs Technology and ETS UV Technology installed by Sunbelt Pools
Shade System - Benchmark Enterprises, LLC
Admission System - Gateway Ticketing System




December 9, 2019, 6:30 am PDT

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