Pam Strickfaden remembers the day when Mason was a bunch of cornfields and cow pastures. Those were the days when Strickfaden dreamed of helping launch a waterpark, when land was plentiful and the promise of suburban development and future customers hovered on the cusp.

Today, her aquatic dream has come true. The Strickfaden family operates The Beach Waterpark, nestled comfortably across the street from Paramount's Kings Island, which launched its own enlarged waterpark, Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay, two years ago.

Now comes news that a third waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge, is coming to Mason, which begs the question: Can a single medium-sized city (pop. 22,016) support three waterparks? Especially when park districts everywhere, not to mention YMCAs, are jumping into the fray as well?

For her part, Strickfaden"”the general manager at The Beach"”sees all sun and sand. "We have a friendly competition. The great truth of the matter is we are joined, that The Beach and Kings Island have a common interest in promoting this area as a destination.
"Now that we have Great Wolf Lodge, we really believe it strengthens our position."

Strickfaden points to trends in the restaurant industry as a prime example: "One restaurant sitting by itself at an interstate interchange faces more challenge drawing customers off the road than does a cluster of restaurants."

True enough. And true enough that 35 percent of The Beach's customers come from outside the Dayton/Cincinnati market. This triple waterpark bonanza could make Mason a year-round attraction (Great Wolf will be indoor, while The Beach and Kings Island both operate winter festivals, making the waterpark business nearly a 24/7 proposition).

The trouble is, if you're planning to draw from the rest of the region, you need to mull the landscape. The face of the waterpark business in both Ohio and Kentucky is changing quickly. Consider:

"¢ In Sandusky, there are now four competing waterparks: Cedar Point's outdoor Soak City and indoor Castaway Bay, plus Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari Resort. Talk about your regional draws to a play capital.

"¢ In Columbus, the Columbus Zoo has just purchased neighboring Wyandot Lake from Six Flags and says it plans to upgrade the park. A new park, Fort Rapids Indoor Waterpark Resort, also opened this year in Columbus.

"¢ Across the river in booming Newport comes reports that a Los Angeles development company, Marquee Dalian Corp., is proposing to build a tri-tower office building/hotel with an enclosed waterpark.

"¢ Farther south in Louisville, Kentucky Kingdom has opened its regional draw, Hurricane Bay, with its new Tornado water ride. Meanwhile, just across the state line from Louisville into Santa Claus, Indiana, you find Holiday World's "Splashin' Safari," a waterpark that offers frees sodas and free sunscreen to patrons.

"¢ Here in Cincinnati, it's hard to ignore that Surf Cincinnati and Americana's waterplay parks have dried up in recent years. And that Coney Island/Sunlite Pool remains a major draw on the east side of town.

Add to all this the new players in the market: county park systems and the YMCAs. Both institutions are not your typical for-profit businesses; they can operate their waterparks at slimmer margins.

It's the YMCA that just opened the $1.3-million Ernest and Helen Ruder Family Water Park in June. The splashy Fairfield facility is the latest in a series of YMCA waterparks and is open to any Y member in the region, at Y rates.

The Hamilton County Parks system, meanwhile, runs a number of "spraygrounds""”Parky's Wetland Adventure at Woodland Mound, Parky's Wet Playground at Winton Woods, Parky's Pirate Cove at Miami Whitewater Forest, and The Ice Age at Sharon Woods (with a wooly mammoth theme). The spraygrounds cost only $1 admission.

Management at Boomerang Bay maintains the same position as The Beach: There's plenty of business for everyone.

"I don't think we're over-saturated at all," comments Maureen Kaiser, a spokesperson at Kings Island. "All of the parks are well-attended."
Kaiser does note that each park offers its own unique benefits. Boomerang Bay's special advantage is "it's two parks for the price of one," the splash park and the Kings Island amusement park.

Strickfaden agrees that each park offers a uniqueness, and that's a major selling point: "We focus on a niche audience, providing a unique entertainment experience. We're a small, more personal operation. We can customize."

The Beach takes advantage of its rolling topography, as well. "Our original site selection has stood us in good stead over the years. We opened in 1985 with seven major ride attraction areas and two activity pools, and added nine more over the years.

"We've well more than doubled since then," continues Strickfaden, "and finally made the name 'The Beach' come alive by fleshing out the theme, adding live palm trees and 'The Pearl' spa area, which has brought more of an exotic, tropical feel."

Strickfaden says attendance is actually up at The Beach, in part due to a series of creative brainstorms: teen dances, concerts, volleyball tournaments, "Dog Days" (bring your dog to swim) and the popular "Dive-in" movies screened at poolside.

Gina Kellogg, a spokesperson at the World Waterpark Association, says the day of the flat-water municipal pool is over, that the trend is towards bigger and better, more chutes, more slides, themed playgrounds and mile-high drops, water-coasters and boogie-boarding. In addition, more and more hotels are getting into the waterpark biz. "It is one area of recreation that a family can do all together."

The arrival of Great Wolf Lodge, a joint venture of Great Wolf Resorts Inc. and Kings Island (recently acquired by Cedarfair Ltd., owner of Cedar Point), throws a 39-acre, $100-million water complex into the Mason mix.

"Inspired by the spirit and adventure of a wilderness vacation," according to company spokesperson Erin Payne, "the four-story, 404-suite resort will provide a comprehensive package of first-class lodging amenities and activities, including a 75,000-square-foot indoor waterpark." The park opens later this year next door to Kings Island.

Can one community, one county, even one city, have too many waterparks? "No, you can't, especially in this kind of weather," responds Margaret Drexel, director of communications for the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "In Warren County, from the reports we are hearing, the waterparks are doing well"”even with the entrance of Great Wolf Lodge.

"Season passes at The Beach are up over 50 percent from last year, and Kings Island is doing well, too. Everybody's happy."
"I've always said," concludes Strickfaden at The Beach, "that our fortune depends on what we do, not what others do." 

WATERPARK SNAPSHOTS

The Beach Waterpark

The Beach features 49 rides and attractions. The park's Cliff was voted among the nation's Top 10 water attractions by the readers of Inside Track magazine. Other rides: Aztec Adventure (the Midwest's only "watercoaster") and a new ride, the Volcanic Panic water slide.

The Typhoon Twist includes three fiberglass slides that are billed as the waterpark's fastest. Other rides include Banzai racing slides, Riptide inner tube ride, Hidden Rapids gnarled tube ride, Watusi enclosed, double helix tube, Snake River Rapids tube adventure, Twilight Zoom (a black, enclosed"”and dark"”tube ride), The Pearl waterfall and spa area, Thunder Beach wave pool, and Lazy Miami River tube ride. Some 2,600 tons of sand encircle the 5,000-square-foot Kokomo Lake.

2590 Waterpark Dr., exit 25 off I-71, Mason. Open daily in season, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. $26.99 weekends (group of four $69.99), $19.99 weekdays (group of four $49.99), $9.99 children 48 inches and under, children age 2 and under free. 513/398-7946 or www.thebeachwaterpark.com.

Coney Island/Sunlite Pool

Coney Island amusement park features Sunlite Pool, billed as the world's largest recirculating pool, complete with a 500-foot water slide and 180-foot water-coaster. Live stage shows include "Groovin' Through the '70s," "All New Chart Toppers" and "Captain Coney's Treasure Chest of Fun" for the kids. Other park features include pedalboat trips on Como Lake, a miniature golf course, a Ferris wheel, Scream Machine free-fall ride, and traditional carnival rides such as the spinning Tempest and the Pepsi Python coaster.

Coney Island Amusement Park, 6201 Kellogg Ave., Anderson Township. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends, in season. Sunlite Pool/ride combo admission is $18.50, $9.95 for children ages 3 and younger. 513/232-8230 or www.coneyislandpark.com.

Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay

Boomerang Bay is stocked with fully-enclosed translucent fiberglass-tube speed slides that twist over each other, as well as a splash pool, a multi-person raft excursion, one-person inner-tube rides, giant wave pools, and more. Snowy River Rampage puts you on a four-person raft and sends you off to banking turns and a final plunge. Tropical lagoons abound. Other wet rides inside the main park include White Water Canyon, an inner-tube raft ride through rushing water; Congo Falls, a churning boat ride down a five-story waterfall;  and The Wild Thornberrys River Adventure log flume.

Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay, Paramount's Kings Island, 6300 Kings Island Dr., Mason. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, in season. $44.99, $29.99 for seniors and children 3-6 (includes theme park admission). 513/754-5700 or www.pki.com.

Great Wolf Lodge

Now under construction and due to open later this year, this four-story, 404-suite hotel resort will include a 100-game arcade and 75,000-square-foot indoor waterpark"”larger than two football fields. The exterior will be a log-sided facade.

Great Wolf Lodge, 1600 Kings Island Dr., Mason. Hours and prices to be announced.