SOUTH HAVEN, MI, USA
Just shy of 5,000 people live in South Haven, Michigan, at the mouth of the Black River on Lake Michigan. In summertime, the population swells to 5 to 10 times that number with residents and tourists alike enjoying the community's waterfront and charming downtown. The South Beach public beach has long been a favorite for families. However, younger children, weak swimmers, or people with physical challenges, the waters of the Lake can sometimes be inhospitable and hazardous.
The public beaches draw residents and tourists alike, stimulating the local economy. But on "red flag" days, when beaches are closed, people stay home. The community therefore sought an alternate attraction to mitigate this impact.
Meanwhile, in the nearby city of St. Joseph, the Whirlpool Centennial Fountain draws families of all ages and abilities with its flat surface and variety of dynamic ground sprays. That inspired the City of South Haven to secure funding for an alternative aquatic play experience of its own, to be set up within walking distance of South Beach.
Over the course of four years, the City raised money through local organizations and obtained a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to collect the $612,000 needed to greenlight the project. It then turned to Abonmarche, an established design firm with offices in South Haven, to develop the Splashpad® project in collaboration with Vortex Aquatic Structures International. Part of existing Riverfront Park and its adjacent parking lot, a footprint of almost 2,900 sq. ft., just up the street from the beach, was selected as the optimal site for the Splashpad.
Located next to the beach, public restrooms and concession area, the new Splashpad provides the final key component to creating an environment that is safe and inviting for families to spend their entire day in the South Beach area.
The Splashpad is not only near the beach but directly adjacent to the community's Harbor Walk, a very popular promenade running between the north and south piers of the harbor. Given the pedestrian-friendly nature of the location and the growing foot traffic from the revitalized part of town, accessibility was a prime concern, to ensure the attraction was one that people of all ages and abilities could enjoy.
Input input from the community, including local elementary schoolchildren, helped determine the theme and features of the Splashpad to truly make it South Haven's own. The project team worked with classes in two of the community's elementary schools to develop the design.
As a port city, South Haven has seen its share of ships, but none as special as the Friends Good Will, a replica of a 19th century tall ship that sails the Black River on daily excursions led by the Michigan Maritime Museum. All agreed the Splashpad should pay the Friends Good Will a fitting tribute: as a result, the design centers on a custom Elevations™ pirate ship structure, decked out in the same green and gold as its namesake. The two sections of the ship feature a number of dynamic water features, from the spray spouting from its bow to a rear deck onto which children can climb and direct water cannons over playmates below.
At ground level, a variety of spray elements from the Splashpad Ocean Sailing collection dot the wheelchair-accessible, zero-depth surface to cool off younger adventurers, while water cannons and dumping buckets entice older children into higher-energy social play. The Splashpad can accommodate up to 195 users, and the wide range of aquatic play features means there is something for everyone to safely enjoy, no matter their age or ability.
The playscape is ringed by a low wall that doubles as seating and anchors the amenity in the park environment. Shaded areas and a circle of picnic tables make the Friends Good Will Splashpad at Riverfront Park as complete a destination as South Beach itself. Families can pack a lunch or enjoy snacks and refreshments from nearby businesses, and have fun in the sun without having to worry about the currents of Lake Michigan.
Since opening on July 9, 2020, the Splashpad has exceeded expectations, with the community embracing its new play area. Children were quick to adopt the ship and the endless imaginative play opportunities it provides, while parents are delighted to have a safe aquatic play alternative for their families. South Haven officials also report increased foot traffic in the area, amplifying other efforts made to revitalize the neighborhood and generating buzz about the latest community destination for families.
Vortex and design firm Abonmarche share the belief that visionaries help to create great places, and that great places do great things. And great things are definitely afoot in the shadow of the Friends Good Will.