Twenty years ago on July 21, 1997 the Wakanda Waterpark opened its doors for the first time.
The park has been a major feature attraction in Menomonie for many years, providing a safe, fun and healthy environment for children, teenagers and adults alike from all over the Chippewa Valley to beat the heat on a hot summer’s day.
Next month, on Sunday, Aug. 13, the Menomonie Park and Recreation Department will host a 20-year Anniversary celebration at the waterpark from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission will be $1, and the first 150 people to enter the park will receive a voucher for a free piece of cake. In addition, a disc jockey will provide entertainment and the rec department will be holding prize drawings for items from local businesses.
A brief dedication ceremony to commemorate the park’s opening 20 years ago will be held at 3:45 p.m.
The city council approved the construction of the facility in Feb. 1996, committing between $1.2 and $1.8 million for the project. The motion was narrowly approved in a 6-4 vote.
Julie Stratton, recreation supervisor of the Menomonie Parks and Recreation Department, said all of the amenities at the park have been there since the beginning, however, there have been a few replacements and upgrades. But Stratton would love to add more.
“Originally, the former director (Phil Fieber) had a vision of adding a lazy river and or a splash pad to the waterpark,” Stratton said “We are still hopeful that someday a splash pad can be added. It would have its own filtration system so if someone were to have an accident, we wouldn’t have to close down the whole pool.”
While Stratton noted that while it would be great to add a feature to the park, it would likely not happen anytime soon due to costs and budget restraints.
Currently, the park features one 230-foot long, 31.6” high slide, one 20-foot long, 12-foot high drop slide, a “stump slide”, a small climbing structure for toddlers, a diving board and more. The park even has a playground outside the pool area for those who want to take a break from the water.
The 13,914 square foot pool can hold up to 950 patrons —and on hotter days — can come close to reaching maximum capacity.
Heidi Vanderloop, head manager and lifeguard of the Wakanda Waterpark said on very hot, sunny days, the facility can see anywhere between 700-850 people throughout the day. However, there have been two days this summer already that have attracted more than 1,000 people.
The waterpark has roughly 30 employees, including nine full time guards, three managers (one head manager and two assistant managers), 20 part time lifeguards and three cashiers.
Vanderloop said the lifeguard position is a wonderful entry level job that provides a tremendous amount of responsibility.
“Each lifeguard is responsible for a specific section of the park,” she explained. “And they are responsible for the lives of the people in their section.”
Vanderloop added that all the lifeguards go through vigorous training, are tentative and take their jobs extremely seriously.
“We do mock rescues on breaks. ... People can visually see our guards in action,” she said. “We do them multiple times a day, too ... It’s not just a once a day or once a week drill ...it’s a good way to keep them on their toes.”
Stratton said the facility is fortunate to have an excellent pool of lifeguards, managers and department employees, as they are truly the ones that make the water park a great, and safe, place for people to spend the day.
The park is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. starting at the end of May through the end of August.
The park also features Teen Night on Tuesdays and Family Night on Wednesdays. Katie Johnson of the Mayo Health System hosts Aqua Zumba at the park on Mondays at 10:30 a.m. and Wednesdays at 5 p.m.
In addition, they offer party room rentals in three hour blocks for anyone who wants to host a birthday party or work gathering, which includes admission for 12 individuals and an exclusive multipurpose party room.
Stratton added that there are many people that reserve the party room throughout the summer for birthday parties and family reunions.
Admission is currently $3 for children ages one through five, $4 for children ages seven through 17 and $5 for adults. The park also offers individual and family season passes, which prices can be found at http://www.menomonie-wi.gov.
“The park isn’t necessarily a huge money-maker,” Stratton said. “But many people, children, families ... use it as an inexpensive way to get away and have some fun without having to drive to the Valley Fair or the Dells and spend hundreds of dollars.”
Stratton encourages city residents and non-residents alike to join the Menomonie Parks and Recreation Department on Aug. 13 in celebrating the waterpark’s 20 years of service to the community. “We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful facility in our park system. This is an attraction that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities due to its zero depth entry”.