By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON —
The sounds of music and children laughing were heard during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new aquatic facility.
“This will be a place where family and friends can come to Mt. Vernon and make great memories,” said Angel Driver, a member of Southtown Youth. “We will have a place to stay off the streets and have something to do. ... Most of all we will be able to have fun in the sun.”
Children were having fun in the sun Thursday, as they were able to pet some animals, thanks to local 4-H youth, and play with water noodles and beach balls. Parks and Facilities Director George Bryant outlined the aquatic center features as an alligator walk suspended between two trees, a zero-depth entry leisure pool, a lap pool with high and low diving boards, a splash pad composed of a large tidal wave bucket, play equipment, interactive large animal spray features with audio, fountains that are color lighted in the evening, water geysers that are activated by touch to display sound, a large concession stand and shaded eating area, two spiral water slides — a body slide and tube slide which empty into a splash down pool that begins the lazy river and numerous turf sun bathing areas adjacent to the pools.
“You will find numerous landscaped areas that allow your childlike fantasies to take you deep into our jungle of grasses, flowers and trees,” Bryant said. “When you come to our water park, you will not just come to swim, you will be on a safari.”
Bryant also said the reason the safari theme was chosen was because of Veterans Park, which was named City Park at one time.
“How many of you have ever heard about the animals that used to be kept years ago in Veterans Park?” Bryant asked. “Our records show that a Dr. S.A. Thompson gave some monkeys and parrots to the Park Board. It was said, ‘Donations of animals from other public spirited citizens followed until the animal population now consists of bears, buffalo, lions, deer, antelope, mountain goats, coyotes and birds.’”
Bryant said he believes children today have a natural bond to animals.
“Animals allow us to laugh, sometimes cry and dream,” Bryant said. “Our children today need to dream and have time to play and make believe. ... The theme of our new water park is based upon a safari to a far off land. We needed some help to organize a safari at our new water park, so we brought back an old park celebrity. Some of you remember him as Leo. He stood in Veterans Park for years and always provided you with a cool, fresh drink of water.”
The Aquatic Zoo mascot is the former lion water fountain, which was refurbished and brought back to the site by Landers Towing. He will be placed in front of the facility to welcome visitors, Bryant said.
“This first year, Leo is bringing his friend the zebra, who is just like him,” Bryant told the crowd. “We are also going to have a small Landover for the toddlers to sit in and have their picture taken.”
Bryant also unveiled the new name of the facility, Aquatic Zoo.
“Or, as the locals call it, the AZ,” Bryant joked.
Isabelle Heitmeyer, one of the King City Flippers Swim Team members, said she thinks the Aquatic Zoo will be “beautiful.”
“We will have a beautiful new place for our team to practice and race in,” Heitmeyer said. “More kids can learn to swim and more kids can be on the swim team. I can’t wait for it to open.”
Construction on the Aquatic Zoo, located on South 34th Street south of Veterans Memorial Drive, will begin within the next few weeks, and a July 4 opening date has been set.