By Kristin Fox
Under the leadership of a new recreation director and with the addition of new facilities, the Swain County Recreation Park is looking to rebrand its recreation department.
According to Swain County Recreation Director Taylor Woodard, the recreation department wants to rebrand the park to attract new people because there are new facilities and programs as well as improvements to the current programs.
Funding from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant and additional funding from the Swain County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), have allowed Swain County to make a major renovation to the existing pool as wells as improve and add facilities to make it more of an aquatic center. Since the pool opened in 1978 only minor improvements had been made to the pool.
The pool had a new filter and pump installed in 2007 at a cost of $200,000 which were funded in part by the PARTF grant and have served the county well over the last decade.
In 2021, Swain County closed the pool for the entire season and completed much needed repairs and upgrades to the pool using local funds. The 2021 renovations uplifted the pool to include a zero-gravity entry on one side and an ADA entrance on the other, as well as a new liner, new guttering, and a new outbuilding housing the filtration equipment.
Last year, Swain County was awarded the $500,000 PARTF grant which will allow the recreation department to move forward with plans to further add to the overall appeal of the pool by creating an aquatics center. With the PARTF grant, the county is installing a three-story slide and a lazy river. In addition, the Swain County Tourism and Development Authority provided an additional $574,000 for the project, with the idea it will benefit both residents and tourists.
The new water slide will be an exciting addition to the pool. The water slide will be 223 feet long and include a loop with the first 32 feet of the slide enclosed and the last 42 feet an open flume. King reported that the footers for the slide have been dug and if all goes as planned the slide will be installed in time for use this season by mid-July. The lazy river, which will be a stand-alone figure 8 feature, will give visitors to the park an experience similar to that of Splash Country.
The county would like to give the recreation department a new name emphasizing the improvements to the existing pool and the addition of a water slide and lazy river creating an aquatic center. County officials want to get everyone involved on the renaming of the recreation department and is encouraging the community to make suggestions for a new name. The county consulted the communication director with the North Carolina Board of Commissioners for a new design for the park logo and is now considering new names for the park. A few names that have been suggested are Aqua Adventure, Swain County Parks and North Shore Aquatic Center.
TDA Board member Shannon Lackey spoke to the board requesting when selecting a new name for the recreation park, they consider a name that emphasizes it is a water park not just a county pool. As required by the state, any money used by the TDA must be spent on tourism, so it is important the name would help to attract visitors as well as the local community justifying the large donation the TDA made to the recreation park improvements.
While making improvements to the recreation department and pool, there have also been some challenges. Commissioner Kenneth Parton expressed his concern with the pool at the June work session of the board.
“I went to the pool this past weekend, and we still have major issues with the pool,” said Parton. “We have four inches of water a day leaking from the small pool, and the splash area is closed down and is not going to be used this season.”
“We shrunk the pool size; we used to have an Olympic length pool now we don’t,” he added. “It is going to be crowded with the beach area going so far into the pool. We rushed to get the grants to make these improvements, and we have rushed to do this stuff, I think we have hurt ourselves. And I think we are doing the same thing with the slide, and I think we are going to have more issues with the lazy river.”
According to King the problem with the small pool leaking wasn’t identified until the end of April, not in time to fix it for this season. In addition, the pump room will need to be moved for the new bathrooms, so it was decided it would be best to wait until after the season is over to make the repair to the small pool and move the pump room in the fall.
In response to the splash pad being closed for the season, Woodard explained that it was closed because it was a safety issue for the children. The paint has chipped and gotten into the filtration system making the splash pad unsafe to be used this season.
Swain County Manager Kevin King told the board the pool recently had the biggest weekend in at least the last five years grossing $1700 for the weekend.
“We have new management at the recreation department this year,” said King. “We are doing things a lot differently this year. This year we are fully staffed with lifeguards, last year we were struggling to get enough lifeguards. This year, we also have qualified people for day camp.”
“We have all the coaches for flag and regular football as well as cheerleading and other programs,” said Woodard. “So far we have counted 62 volunteers with the recreation department.”
King also told the board that the recreation department started football signups on June 1. He stated that there will not be a cap on the number of participants this year, and that enough equipment for all youth who want to play has already been ordered for the program. Registration for the football and cheerleading program is also now available online.
“I just think we need to have more discussion about the recreation department,” said Parton. “This has been an issue ever since I’ve been elected. Every year we go through this, it is never ending. A lot of parents get mad at me, because I have told them in past years and recently, if the parents aren’t willing to participate in some of the stuff at the recreation park, then why are we even paying for a recreation department. They have to participate; they have to volunteer. We have to pay people to run the concession stands at the football games.”
Parton requested the board hold a meeting with the recreation park director and the advisory committee to make sure everyone is on the same page for the new direction the recreation park is taking. Commissioners agreed to add this to the agenda for the July 11 work session of the board.