Watching his uncle — Ned Stancliff, former vice president of Herschend Family Entertainment — Chris Swartz knew he wanted to work in the amusement park industry. Today, as park manager of NRH2O in North Richland Hills, Texas, he can proudly say he’s achieved his dream, and then some. Swartz is now leading the industry as chair of the World Waterpark Association’s Board of Directors.
According to WWA, the public sector represents approximately 20 percent of new membership in the organization, and Swartz is the first chairman to come out of the municipal public sector constituency.
“As more communities look to include attractions found in private waterparks, the WWA is a natural place to gravitate toward,” he says.
But Swartz got his start in the private sector. As a youngster in Weeki Wachee, Fla., he spent a lot of time in the water. One of his first jobs was as a lifeguard while attending the University of Central Florida, located in the Orlando area. He was employed at Wet ‘n Wild Orlando and says two things drew him to waterparks: the fact that the industry is rooted in recreation and fun, and the casual dress code.
He took on the responsibility of opening the brand-new NRH20 in 1995, at age 24, after a couple of years in management at a Georgia waterpark.
Swartz believes there aren’t many differences about operating a public park compared with operating a private park. But he does note that in a public environment, “You’re under more of a microscope.”
“Because I know that everything I do is in the open, I think that’s made me a better operator,” he adds.
Swartz first became involved with WWA around the same time he took the job at NRH2O. A self-described techno-junkie, “I gave the first-ever presentation on the Internet for the WWA,” he recalls.
Now, as chair, he’s opening the waterpark doors to those in the municipal aquatics sector, helping them form new connections through WWA and proving that aquatics can be financially viable.
But ultimately his goal is simple. “When I rotate off the Board of Directors, I want to see the association stronger than when I began,” he says.