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Cottage Grove's new water feature makes a splash

The new splash pad has enough water features to keep a crowd of kids busy. Water doesn't run all the time. There are sensors the kids activate that run for a limited amount of time before automatically shutting off. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner1 / 4
It didn't take long for Jacob Sanders and others to figure out they could put their heads inside the water mushroom. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner2 / 4
Young children, such as Olivia Korpi, who came to the opening with her grandparents, John and Gail Brown, liked the mushroom shower that all of the kids tried to drink from. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner3 / 4
The splash bucket was a favorite with kids. Jacob Sanders (left), his brother, Ben, and Jennifer Kelly, stood under the bucket until it filled up and dumped cold water on them. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner4 / 4

A pair of 100-degree days, some tropical dew points and nearly a week of excessive heat warnings -- not a bad time to break in a new municipal aquatic play feature.

Cottage Grove officials probably couldn't have timed it any better if they had tried when the city opened its new water play area, called a splash pad, amid a record-setting weeklong heat wave that dogged the Upper Midwest through last weekend.

The new play area, located at Highlands Park on Idsen Avenue and 70th Street, is an interactive water feature with interchangeable play equipment and nozzles that shoot water like a giant sprinkler.

"It's great. Even the big kids are having fun," said Julie Naylor, a parent at the splash pad on opening day, "and you don't have to worry about drowning. There's also a canopy to provide a little shade for the parents."

The splash pad's construction was approved by the City Council last year after the city chose to close the four-decade-old municipal pool that officials said had become too expensive to maintain. That decision -- despite steadily falling attendance -- drew complaints, with some residents saying only younger children would utilize the new splash pad.

Highlands Parks' new amenity was crowded, however, with kids of all ages last week looking to cool off. The 100-degree temps -- and no admission cost -- helped bring out the crowds.

Zac Dockter, the city's parks and recreation director, estimated Monday the splash pad had drawn roughly 2,500 users in its first six days. "That's a big number," he said, especially compared to the municipal pool that in its final years averaged around 5,000 in summer attendance, according to city figures.

Dockter said the city expects to save somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000 per year in maintenance costs in lieu of the old pool. At that rate, the $470,000 splash pad will be paid off in roughly six years, he said.

Officials have said they expect splash pad users to come from across the metro area.

Gail and John Biron brought their granddaughter, Olivia Korpi, a preschooler, to the splash pad even though they have a swimming pool at home. Olivia can only be in the pool if Gail or John is in the water with her so they can relax if they take her to the splash pad.

"It's all very interactive," John said.

Joey Iago didn't think the splash pad would be any fun. After he spent a half hour going from one spray nozzle to another, he admitted he had no idea how much fun it would be.

"It's awesome," added his cousin, Nick Cannon.

Nicholas Danielson's favorite feature was a mushroom-shaped shower. "I like it here," he said. "You don't need to wear a life jacket."

A lack of standing water means the city will save money on maintenance, officials have said; the water, which disappears quickly down a drain, doesn't need to be treated with expensive chemicals and a lifeguard isn't needed.

In addition to the splash pad, the city also upgraded the adjacent Highlands Park srecreation building in anticipation of a surge in usage. The renovated building can be rented out for private parties.

The city's long-term plan, if the first splash pad is deemed a success, is to add three smaller features at Hamlet, Kingston and Woodridge parks.

"We'll monitor this one and see how it works," Dockter said.