Rebound summer makes splash at Skokie Water Playground

If you wanted to put Skokie's disappointing summer pool season last year to numbers, Scott Runkle of the Skokie Park District has them for you.

Among the 15 weekends where Skokie's two water facilities were open for full hours, he said, 13 of them had some kind of rain. That didn't mean the pools closed down each time, or the rain lasted for hours all 13 weeks, he said, but it gives some indication of how the pool season fell far short of ideal.

"The last few seasons have not been so great," Runkle said, "but this year is a different story."

It's a different story because many of 2016's summer weekends have been warmer than average — even steamy at times — and they have often been bathed in sunlight.

In other words, perfect beach and pool weather.

That's good news for the Skokie Water Playground at Oakton Park and the Devonshire Aquatic Center at Devonshire Park, two aquatic facilities that Runkle oversees for the Park District.

There has also been a key addition this year to the Skokie Water Playground, where parents often head with their children when the weather turns toasty. The Park District has replaced a couple slides with new twisting and turning red and yellow ones, allowing young thrill-seekers to take a splashy adventure riding on tubes.

"They were 20 years old so they were starting to get to the end of their life cycles," Runkle said about the old slides.

The big pool at the Skokie Water Playground has also been sand-blasted and repainted for the first time in years, Runkle said.

In an average year, Runkle said, the two facilities draw about 100,000 visitors, but this year he said he expects closer to 125,000.

Still, not everything has run as smoothly as — well — U.S. Olympic swimming star Missy Franklin in water. The last pieces for the new slides didn't arrive until early June, Runkle said, and there was some delay getting the pumps to work with the new slides.

But now, the Skokie Water Playground has a shiny new toy on its northwest end, the slides serving as a colorful draw for children, he said.

One reason the sprawling Skokie Water Playground is among the most popular summer attractions for families is that it has amenities for pool-users of all ages.

Surrounding the main pool are the slide pool, an interactive spray area and a splash bucket pool featuring an enormous overhead bucket that tips over every few minutes, giving those underneath quite a refresher on a sweaty day.

At any time, the Skokie Water Playground has 10 to 14 lifeguards overseeing a main pool of some 14,000 square feet, Runkle said. "That's a large pool," he said.

Like many public pools, Skokie's outdoor aquatics season is dictated by staffing. High school and college students return to school in August so staffing necessitates that the normal pool season be completed by the middle of August, according to Runkle.

It's always tough, he said, for some people to realize how quickly the pool season in Skokie ends; it's now already well over half completed. The Skokie Water Playground ends its regular season Aug. 14 before going to shorter hours, Runkle said, and Devonshire finishes up completely by Aug. 19.

"This is a small, regional destination," Runkle said. "People will come here. The nice thing about this summer is that we've been busy. People don't all buy season passes -- they like to try different ones – and it's fortunate that they seem to like coming here a lot."

For more information on the Skokie Water Playground, go to www.skokieparks.org/skokie-water-playground.

misaacs@pioneerlocal.com

Twitter @SKReview_Mike

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