North Valleys Water Splash Park | Stead, Nev.
Aquatic Design Group North Valleys Water Splash Park | Stead, Nev.

Goals and challenges
The mission was clear: Create a one-of-a-kind public amenity that reflects the heritage of the high-desert area and can be enjoyed by tots and big kids alike.

How they did it
Washoe County, Nev., determined that a splashpad would serve the purpose of keeping kids cool without the operating expense of a typical neighborhood swimming pool. But commissioners would not be content with something generic.

As a stand-alone attraction, it’s somewhat unusual for a water-play area to have much in the way of a motif. That’s why Aquatic Design Group, based in Carlsbad, Calif., had to put forth a bit more creativity than the average splashpad demands.

This particular project needed to somehow complement the region’s beauty or reference its history.

Several ideas were presented to the county board: One centered on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with particular reference to Lake Tahoe. Another concept paid homage to the area’s mining history.

But it was a high-flying concept that took a cue from the vaunted National Championship Air Races, held every September just north of Reno, that won them over.

Indeed, the event has been a cherished part of the high-desert heritage since its takeoff in 1964, attracting tens of thousands of spectators every year. It has been interrupted only once in its 50-year history: On Sept. 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the grounding of airplanes nationwide following the terrorist attacks.

The project wasn’t without turbulence. It turned out that no single manufacturer could accommodate the entire concept. To achieve a cohesive plane scheme, Aquatic Design Group enlisted four manufacturers to supply all the various aviation-themed accessories.

Some required a bit of customizing to better resemble the planes and biplanes that commonly participate in the annual races. One towering structure that douses tots was reimagined into a miniature replica of the Reno Stead Airport control tower. It’s even stamped with the same FAA Identifier: KRTS.

The splashpad’s “runway” actually runs parallel to that of the Reno Stead Airport’s, about 3 miles north of the park, and divides the facility into two zones: a more tame area for little pilots and a wetter, wilder spot with slides and water cannons for more experienced aviators.

Another noteworthy feature: Water jets, flush to the rubberized surface on both sides of the runway, eject columns in a synchronized, escalating pattern to resemble a plane’s takeoff.


  • An aviation-themed splashpad in Nevada's high desert stands as a monument to the National Championship Air Races, held each year north of Reno.
  • The waterfeatures were customized to resemble specific racing planes.
  • The layout is patterned on nearby Reno
    Stead Airport.