Beating The Heat In The River Parishes

Public Splash Pads and Spray Parks Offer Residents Near The Port District No-Cost Relief From The Merciless South Louisiana Summer Sun.

Call them splash pads.
Call them splash parks.
Call them spray parks.

Whatever you call these modern recreational oases located on both the east and west banks of the Mississippi River near the Port of South Louisiana, their function and purpose remain the same: They’re civic gathering spots for River Parishes residents and visitors to cool off during the summer months. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, splash pads/spray parks are interactive aquatic fountains often found in public parks that jet water at patrons as they play. Generally, these free-to-the-public attractions are designed so that standing water does not collect at the base of the splash pad/spray park – enabling children of all ages to safely partake in the fun regardless of their swimming acumen. 

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Beyond offering no-cost recreation to all residents of the River Parishes, these splash pads/spray parks provide refreshment from the often-grueling temperatures that saturate south Louisiana in the months of May, June, July, August and September. According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature in all three river parishes (St. John, St. James, St. Charles) exceeds 90 degrees in the months of July and August while the Heat Index – a metric that factors in humidity when measuring temperature – often reaches triple digits.

With that established, it’s no surprise that splash pads/spray parks are popular “hot spots” (pardon the pun) for families when schools let out for summer break.

St. Charles Parish

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At Ormond Park Community Park in Destrehan, the annual re-opening of the facility’s ‘Spray Park’ just before Memorial Day has served as the unofficial start of summer for parents and children in St. Charles Parish for nearly a decade now. 

“It has truly been a hot spot for families with young kids to go during afternoons in the summer months,” said Alissa Cavaretta, Assistant Director for Parks and Recreation in St. Charles. “There’s been no better place for people in our parish to have a great time, hang out, relax and especially cool off when the weather warms up.”

Gated off between two baseball fields, the Ormond Spray Park typically does a weekends-only “soft launch” every year during the first week of May before opening fully six days a week Tuesday through Sunday (Monday is a maintenance day) one month later during the beginning of June. The facility is strategically open during the hottest hours of the afternoon, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and includes shaded benches for parents and guardians to monitor in comfort while their kids splash around in the water. 

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One of the most unique features of the Ormond facility compared to other free, public water attractions in the area is that the footprint or base of the spray park is made out of a spongey, blue mat — a material that absorbs less heat, is less slippery when wet, and has more ‘give’ when walking upon it than concrete. The spray park also features an elevated water bucket that tips over when filled, an archway of sprinklers that creates a defacto water tunnel, and several timed water shooters embedded in the aforementioned blue base mat.

It’s estimated close to 10,000 St. Charles residents and visitors to parish utilize the Ormond Spray Park annually. 

Because of that site’s popularity, parish leaders recently announced intentions to build a similar spray park facility in Luling near the Edward A. Dufresne Community Complex. Upon completion, this new attraction would give St. Charles a spray park on both the east and west banks of the Mississippi River, and mark another vital step forward in the parish’s community-shaped master plan for parks and recreation. 

“Obviously it’s convenient for our St. Charles residents to have a spray park on each side of the river, but that wasn’t our sole reason for planning to build another one of these facilities,” Cavaretta said. “What we’re really striving to do on Judge Edward Dufresne Parkway is create a big community hub. 

“So the spray park will be adjacent to the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center, which already has the Veterans Memorial Plaza and hosts the second-ever Gold Star Family Memorial Monument in the state,” Cavaretta continued. “So our goal is to make this area a central gathering area for all of our residents.”

Groundbreaking on the new spray park is scheduled for later this summer in hopes of opening in time for the beginning of spray park season in 2024. To accommodate the expected crowds, additional parking and restroom facilities are also included in the construction plans. 

St. John the Baptist Parish

Labeled as “splash pads,” St. John has three public water-centric facilities designed for children to cool off and have fun. 

This year, St. John splash pads are open from noon to 7 p.m. six days a week (like St. Charles, Monday is a maintenance and cleaning day in St. John) at Thomas Daley Memorial Park in LaPlace, REGALA Park in Reserve, and Juan Anthony Joseph Memorial Park off Highway 18 in Edgard.

Each park includes different inactive features such as sprinklers, water-shooting hydrants and spinning buckets roughly 8-10 feet in the air that tilt over and dump a sheet of water on patrons below upon reaching their tipping point.    

St. James Parish

The best way to quantify the popularity and success of St. James Parish’s ‘splash parks’ program  is to simply count up the number of facilities that have sprouted up across the region in less than a decade. 

In 2014, parish officials opened the first splash park at the District 7 Park in Vacherie to complement other attractions such as the fitness station, football field, pavilion, playground and sand volleyball courts. Needless to say, the water-laden addition to the park was a huge hit. 

How huge?

Well, the crowds at the District 7 splash park were so robust that the parish immediately set forth plans to construct similar interactive fountains in every district in St. James – a goal that quickly came to fruition in 2021 when a splash park was installed and opened at Gramercy Park.

“I’ve rarely driven past an empty splash park on a summer afternoon,” said Ryan Larousse, Assistant Director of Public Works in St. James Parish. “All of the parks are used regularly, and we’ve even heard of residents from other parishes driving to St. James to enjoy our facilities.”

Splash parks in St. James Parish are open for six full months — May 1 to Halloween – from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Those extended hours and the half-year operations calendar provide residents of St. James ample opportunity to not just partake in the cooling, satisfying fun of their own neighborhood spray park, but ALL the spray parks in the parish. 

Architects and parish officials purposely made each spray park in St. James unique – with different layouts, different attractions, and different water-soaking features – to encourage intra-parish travel to all seven public parks. For instance, the 7th District splash park has a mushroom-shaped canopy that drips a full ring of water around patrons. The Romeville Park splash park in Convent features an ever-running arch of water that children can run in, out and under while playing, while another park has a fake palm tree that shoots water.  

“We’re proud to say that every district in our parish has a splash park at their local park,” St. James Parish president Pete Dufresne said. “They are used and enjoyed every summer, all season long. I’d like to encourage all residents to get out to the parks and enjoy this summer activity.”

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