Then: The Woodlands Township, Texas, operated 12 pools, with plans to add more. The mission? To ensure that no member of this community north of Houston had to travel more than two miles to reach a facility. At the time, between all the pools, there were ten water slides, six diving wells, two water playgrounds and a spraypad. The Woodlands Township also offered learn-to-swim programs, lifeguard training, water aerobics, water therapy, competitive swimming, and even scuba and kayaking. Safety was a priority: For example, each day, at 10 minutes before the hour, pools took “safety breaks,” in which children exited the pool while the guards performed training scenarios. Marketing efforts paid big dividends: In 2006, The Woodlands Township’s facilities saw a 248 percent increase in its pool rentals, and served nearly 150,000 patrons during the season.

Now: The Woodlands Township community (population 105,000) has continued to grow, and so has its aquatics offerings. Since 2007, two new pools and three sprayparks have been built, and a number of amenities have been added. The Wendtwoods Pool opened this year and features a fast-moving Vortex slide, a lilypad crossing and a large play structure, as well as traditional swim lanes. Altogether, The Woodlands Township’s aquatic facilities now see more than 250,000 user visits annually, according to Parks and Recreation Director Chris Nunes. By community mandate, half of the $2 million operations budget must be generated from day fees and season passes; the rest comes from local taxes. An individual pass costs $40 and gives access to all 14 pool facilities; about 18,000 of the 105,000 community residents buy passes. “It’s a challenging system to maintain,” says Nunes, “but by working hard to control costs, … we haven’t increased prices for five years.” Key staff include an aquatics superintendent, a lifeguard coordinator, an aquatics program coordinator, a pool tech foreman with five techs, and a fleet of more than 330 lifeguards.

A kayak facility added in 2009 at the 200-acre Lake Woodlands also has been very successful: In the first year, 4,500 kayaks were rented; in 2013, the number will surpass 10,000. The Woodlands Township also has been able to leverage its well-trained lifeguard staff, 70 of whom have received certifications in waterfront and open-water safety. This enables the program to provide lifeguard services for regularly scheduled triathlon and Ironman events.

Plans are also in the works to add a fourth spraypark in 2014, during the next pool renovation.