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Posted on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

New $4M splash park at Independence Lake County Park to open Memorial Day weekend

By Amy Biolchini


The splash pad at the new Blue Heron Bay water park at Independence Lake County Park in Webster Township. It will be open the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for the first time.

Amy Biolchini |

A new splash park is set to open the Memorial Day weekend at Independence Lake County Park in northwestern Washtenaw County that planners hope is the catalyst to change the way people use the park.

Work has been ongoing for two years to build the $4 million Blue Heron Bay splash park about mid-way from the park entrance to the beach on Independence Lake in Webster Township.


Yellow concrete denotes the toddler area, while the green concrete denotes the family area in the new Blue Heron Bay water park.

Amy Biolchini |

Blue Heron Bay is about 95 percent complete. The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission's construction crews are under a tight deadline to complete the park by Friday, May 24, when it will have a soft opening of the park for elementary school students by invite only. The park will open to the public May 25 -- the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day weekend also will mark the opening of the Rolling Hills Water Park at 7660 Stony Creek Road in Ypsilanti Township, which has been under construction since it closed last Labor Day. About $4.5 million in improvements are about 75 percent complete.

At Blue Heron Bay, a new splash pad with three separate areas for toddlers, families and tweens has been built at the site, as well as a two-story water slide with two flumes: One that’s enclosed and one that’s open.

The splash park is universally accessible. Both new water slides at Blue Heron Bay and Rolling Hills will have a minimum height requirement of 42 inches - which is different than most area water parks that have a height requirement of 48 inches.


A new two-story water slide at Blue Heron Bay water park.

Amy Biolchini |

Capacity for the new facility will be about 750 people, and will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily beginning Memorial Day weekend. Though it fronts Independence Lake, the facility is separated from the water by a fence.

Because there is no standing water at the splash park, each of the attendants at the park are not required to be trained as lifeguards, said Brian Machemer, superintendent at Independence Lake County Park.

The attendants at the splash park will all be trained in first aid and CPR, Machemer said, and there will be at least one lifeguard on duty.

Patrons will be welcomed to Blue Heron Bay by a new building housing restrooms, changing areas and a snack stand. There are outdoor showers, but no indoor showers because the splash park does not include a pool.

Adjacent to the snack stand is an outdoor grill area where staff will prepare grilled chicken sandwiches and hamburgers for sale. The snack area also will be accessible from outside the splash park.

The splash park itself is divided into three areas for use using colored concrete and interactive water toys targeted at specific age groups.

For toddlers, water features are at the ground level and include small bubbling fountains and turtles and frogs that spit water. There are a number of large fabric awnings that will provide shade.

In the family zone, there are larger water features - including the central focal point of the whole park, a tall spinning wheel that will slowly fill with water before dumping it on those below. About 250 lounge chairs will be on the patio surrounding the splash pad area, as well as a number of picnic tables.

A separate zone for tweens on the opposite side of the splash park from the toddler area has many interactive water features, including water cannons and a giant spider that creates a web of water when certain sensors are activated.


A giant spider in the tween area of the new Blue Heron Bay water park that will spray a web of water when people step on all the sensors on the ground at the same time.

Amy Biolchini |

Splash parks use less water than a traditional pool and have a “higher fun value,” said Jeff Dehring, principal park planner for Washtenaw County. Blue Heron Bay is equipped with a state-of-the-art UV water treatment system that adds an extra layer of protection to the water treatment process. In addition to being treated with UV rays, the water will be chlorinated and monitored.

The new facility will replace the former splash park, which was located next to the beach at the northern part of the property.

It had been operational for about 12 summer seasons and was mechanically failing, Dehring said.

The old splash park has been torn out and will be replaced by grass to create more of a natural area near the beach, Dehring said.

In previous summers, the park has been congested as users had to drive all the way to the northern half of the property to get to the beach and the splash park.

Orienting the new splash park in the middle of the Independence Lake County Park property was important to re-locate the hub of the activity to a central location, said Bob Tetens, director of the Washtenaw County Parks Commission.

The area was previously under-utilized, as it hosted a rentable pavilion - the Gamble Group Center - and parking lot for disc golf, Tetens said. The Gamble Group Center remains and has been renovated, as the new facility has been built around it.

Admission fees for Blue Heron Bay have been set by the Washtenaw County Parks Commission:

  • For Washtenaw County residents: $4 per day; $3 after 5 p.m. on weekdays
  • Non-residents: $5 per day; $4 after 5 p.m. on weekdays
  • Toddlers age 2 years old and younger: Free

The parks commission also has increased the fees by $1 at Rolling Hills Water Park. Rates there have not increased since 2003, and the commission felt it was justified given the millions in upgrades to the park underway.


A bathhouse, concession area and new entrance under construction at Rolling Hills Water Park in Ypsilanti Township. Work will be complete by the time the park opens Memorial Day weekend.

Courtesy of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation

This summer, patrons at Rolling Hills will see a new three-story water slide with three different flumes - two that curve and one that’s straight down. The slide will add to the water features in place at the park: A lazy river, splash pad, wave pool and leisure pool.

Additionally, the bathhouse and entryway have been removed and re-built in a different location to the entrance that is directly behind the wave pool.

The perimeter of the park has also been extended to allow for more grassy areas for people to sunbathe. Tetens said the parks commission is considering allowing patrons to Rolling Hills to bring their own lawn chairs this summer.

To give feedback on parks and trails operated by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation department, visit its online survey.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Gary Haller

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

I spoke to a supervisor at he road commission about the the condition of Jennings Rd Believe it or not Jennings Rd is a 55 mph county road . I found this out when I applied for a driveway permit back in the 90s I was told Jennings Rd will become some sort of new kind of paved rd Those of us who have lived in Webster Twp for years We have always enjoyed the serene landscapes Now I hope this isnt going to change


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 11 p.m.

Okay wait. So if I buy my season pass to Independence Lake (at an increased rate because I live outside the county), I have to pay more to use the splash park? And more more because I live outside the county?

Sean Thomas

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 5:04 a.m.

yes. when you add it up it's only like...a few dollars total "more more" though and it will probably be worth it.

music to my ear

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

splish splash I will be there taking a bath (and swimming) too, looks excite-ting

Terry Reilly

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

Right. A "soft" opening on the 24th. I am sure those kidds will take it nice 'n easy on the new facility! Cool venue, kids will love it all summer long.


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

I don't know how great this is, but I do know that it seems like a lot of working stuff and running water when you think about our brass girder/cheap-looking blue light/anemic trickle we have on East Huron after $750,000 and then some. 4 mil doesn't seem too bad for all that when you use the Hurinal as a pricing barometer.


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

Why is there no information about the status of this, or any of the other improvements at Rolling Hills, on the county web site? When I last checked a month ago there wasn't a peep about it - you'd think there'd be a status report and an elevation drawing, at minimum. There's a lot of major improvements planned for Rolling Hills in the next few years but you'd never know it from looking at the county or park web site.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 3:03 a.m.

Yes, thanks for the update on Rolling Hills. Sounds fun!

music to my ear

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

I had no clue either thanks a2 com. you made my day!!!!!!


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 7:04 p.m.

Nope, nothing there - not even a FB page. Even if they were, it would still merit a reference on the website to check their FB page.


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

I think they are posting everything on facebook. All companies seem to be going that route with updates. I think it makes it easier then updating a webpage which often times needs a programmer's expertise. Not agreeing with it. Just an fyi.


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.

$4.5M is a lot of money. But still, it makes a LOT more sense to get 3 water parks than 1 useless windmill.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

don't think of this park as a place to have fun. Think of it as a demonstration that fun is possible. That way it doesn't seem so expensive. Social studies classes can use it as a vehicle to study the concept of fun.

Jack Gladney

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

Are they still taking applications for the lifeguard positions at the splashpark with no standing water? Do I have to own a flotation device with an attached nylon rope to qualify or will a whistle suffice?

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

I would advise contacting the parks department on that, as the superintendent at Independence Lake is finalizing his staffing plan over the next month.


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

Yay to bringing your own lawn chairs!


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 10:56 a.m.

The most important aspect which was not addressed in the article, is how are the patrons of the park going to get there since Jennings Road, from North Territorial to the park, is basically impassable. It is to the point already, that cars literally drive on the residents lawns due to the roads massive and unavoidable potholes. This has been an ongoing problem for years. I can only imagine that with the increase traffic it will get worse.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

Jennings Rd. is the main reason I haven't been to the park in at least 3-4 years. Which is too bad because I used to enjoy going there. It's good to hear that the road will be paved or at least sealed [how long will that last?] but why wait 'til mid-late summer to do so when the swimming and picnicking season typically start on Memorial Day weekend?


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 9:27 p.m.

I found out today that they are only putting on a top sealer - not an actual full fledged paving job. Given the tremendous traffic on the road, I don't believe this will be a viable long term solution.

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

As Top Cat mentioned, the Parks Commission, Road Commission and Webster Township are working together to pave a portion of Jennings Road near the end of July or August.

Top Cat

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

The plan is to pave Jennings Road from North Territorial to the Park late this summer.

Katie Anne

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 10:17 a.m.

Can't decide if I'm happy about this change.. Thinking I'm not. We loved the "free" splash pad because we then could split up easily.. One parent at the lake and one at the splash pad. Hmmm. Does anyone know if there will be a family pass to the splash park?

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

The fee schedule set by the Parks Commission, to my knowledge, does not include family passes right now.