Then: The Kids Love Recreation (KLR) Splashpad at Michigan’s Seymour Lake Township Park was the brainchild of the late Virginia Britton, then president of the Oxford Rotary. With her urging, and under the direction of Oxford’s Parks and Recreation Director Ron Davis, the project quickly became a communitywide effort. Funds raised by Oxford’s Kiwanis, Lions, and Rotarians supplemented a state grant and private donations to make construction possible in 2008, at a total cost around $440,000. From the beginning, the project was envisioned as being universally accessible. Waterplay features can be activated by children using wheelchairs, and water-safe wheelchairs are available at the park. A brightly colored map of the U.S. imprinted on the park’s surface not only provides a fun geography lesson, but is stimulating for autistic children. The park also has a dry playground, as well as ample space for picnics and a concession. In addition to universal access, the KLR Splashpad also serves the greater community in other ways. The spray water is fresh well water, minimizing the risk of any infectious outbreaks, and wastewater is captured in a holding pond and used for irrigating four nearby ball fields and as a backup supply for the local fire department. In the wintertime, the pond becomes a community ice-skating rink. When the judges chose the KLR Splashpad in 2010, the park’s popularity had grown so quickly that the staff had implemented a clever “traffic control” system to ensure that the children had a fun, safe experience. On busy days, children are issued a red, yellow, or red bracelet — like the colors on a traffic light. Children know that it’s their turn to play when their color is flashing.

Now: According to Parks Director Ron Davis, the KLR Splashpad is “running full steam ahead.” Based on fees collected, more than 20,000 kids used the park during the 2013 season, up from around 13,000 in 2010. And that number doesn’t include parents, grandparents, or caregivers, who come in free. “We’ll have schools from neighboring communities call us and make the splashpad their end-of-the-year field trip,” says Davis. “We get school kids by the busload, and we have rehab centers, church groups and childcare centers coming in.”

Financially, the splashpad is now breaking even. “We got a subsidy the first year, but last year, depending on how you look at the numbers, we made about a $2,000 profit,” says Davis. Non-resident kids pay $4 for entry, and residents pay $1. “No one complains about the fee, because they know it means we can keep the park staffed every day, and that someone is monitoring who comes and goes and that their kids are safe.”

The park has also created unexpected opportunities for the town of 15,000, which has seen tough times with the economic slowdown and setbacks in Detroit’s automotive industry. “Building the splashpad really united the community, and gave the kids something to do locally,” says Davis. “Plus, the softball and football fields have never been irrigated before, so the players have definitely noticed and complimented us on that; and the wintertime skating rink is another new opportunity that we never had before.”

Davis enjoyed the building process. The town’s kids got to participate in the design, helping to select features and choosing the colors. “It was true community involvement,” says Davis. “And Vortex, the company that supplied the equipment, was with us the whole way, from helping with the design to the time we put the first shovel in the ground to opening day.”