published Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Kennedy: Finally, a park with a chance

Since 1995, the Times Free Press and the two premerger dailies here have together published 286 stories about water parks.

Now, please take a minute and look around. Do you see any water parks? No, you do not.

It's like I always say: The park isn't finished until the fat lady puts on her water wings.

Here at the newspaper, I am the official water-park grouch. Any time a reporter files a story about a water park, I roll my eyes and snicker.

I'm actually a big water-park fan. After God, family and Pittsburgh Steelers, water parks are practically my favorite things. My vision of the River Jordan is a lazy river ride ending in a double-loop water slide propelling the righteous right into heaven, lickety-split.

I once bought season passes to Big Kahuna's Water Park in Destin, Fla., although I live 400 miles away. This is not a logical thing to do.

Just last month, our family vacationed at the Wilderness Lodge in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., because it has a cool indoor water park. We also love Six Flags White Water in Atlanta and Dolly Parton's Splash Country in Pigeon Forge.

I was disappointed -- but not surprised -- when Parton recently pulled out of a deal with Gaylord Opryland to build a combination water/snow park in Nashville. Nine times out of 10, this is what happens -- a proposed water park gets a big buildup in the media, I get my hopes up, and then the whole idea circles the drain.

If you don't believe me, here are a few items gleaned from the newspaper archives.

* August 1995. Developers announced plans to build a $13.5 million water park on a 120-acre tract in East Brainerd to be called The Hidden Lagoon.

The last time I looked, the lagoon was still hidden.

* November 1997. An Atlanta real estate expert told city officials in Decatur, Tenn., they would be crazy not to build a recreation area, including a water park, on TVA property near Watts Bar Lake.

Craziness prevailed.

* October 2000. The newspaper reported that a local developer was working on a "water park, driving range and amusement center" at Camp Jordan in East Ridge.

Amusingly, it did not get built.

* November 2007. Developers announced plans to build a $12 million water park on Ringgold Road in East Ridge that promised to attract 6,000 visitors a day. The park was to be called Splash Valley and was slated to open six months later.

Subsequently, the Times Free Press published 10 stories about progress on the Splash Valley, including a breathless report that the park could lead to a citywide lifeguard shortage. Oh my!

After about a year of financial CPR, Splash Valley finally croaked.

Noticing a pattern here?

Then last month, Lake Winnepesaukah announced it will build a five-acre water park to open next summer.

For the first time in years, I actually have faith that a proposed water park will get built. Lake Winnie is a respected brand. More importantly, it's a family business with a reputation on the line.

I like the fact that the water park will reportedly be built in phases, and that it doesn't even have a name. In the past, cute names and elaborate groundbreakings have led to embarrassing flops.

I predict the only flop this time will be the sound of my belly hitting the lazy river.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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