With his grandfather Crystal River Councilman Robert Holmes holding him, Decker Brown reached his little hand down to a raised metal button in front of him and city officials.
Once the infant pressed down on the switch, with a little help from Holmes, water started to churn and flow beneath the surface of a large concrete pad behind him.
Suddenly, streams of chlorinated water erupted from roughly a dozen flattened fountains throughout the paved surface, reaching heights of up to seven feet before raining down on ecstatic and casually dressed City Council members standing nearby.
“This is the best thing in the whole world,” Crystal River Main Street’s Executive Director Meredith Linley said while watching her young son play among the columns of water shooting up in sequences.
After conceptualizing the idea around four years ago, Crystal River unveiled its Splash Pad Park the morning of Friday, Nov. 12, next to its water tower on the northeast corner of Northeast First Avenue and Northeast Fifth Street.
Nov. 23 is the first day the park opens to the public. City officials wanted the park to be operational in time for Saturday’s United Way fundraiser there.
Along with Crystal River's Town Square and Riverwalk, this park makes up another component of the city’s plans to better weave the business and amenities along Citrus Avenue.
“Today, it’s become a reality, and I’m just so excited to be here,” City Manager Ken Frink said, introducing observers of the park’s soft opening. “What you see now is the next phase in turning downtown Crystal River into a destination for all the state to come and enjoy.”
Frink, Councilman Ken Brown and Mayor Joe Meek on Friday thanked city staff, council, Crystal River Main Street, the Florida legislature and citizens for supporting the park.
“We have such a great group of folks to work with,” Meek said. “City council has just been so dedicated to investing in our city … and this is the latest project to do that.”
Frink also expressed his gratitude toward Hugh Tolle, Vice Mayor Pat Fitzpatrick and Laura Lou Fitzpatrick for their cooperation in selling Crystal River a strip of land to allow the city to move forward with building its park.
Pat Fitzpatrick abstained from voting in the purchase.
“We had a lot of people involved in this,” Frink said. “We could not have done this without you.”
Brown said the splash pad was the best choice to fill the once-vacant lot.
“This is something that’s going to be used for generations to come,” he said. “This is an investment in the community, this is why people want to live in this community because of things like this.”
Florida lawmakers appropriated a $450,000 grant in 2019 to help pay for the project. City Council members followed up with a $350,000 pledge from Crystal River.
Lecanto-based contractor Daly & Zilch Inc. started constructing the splash pad park in April with an allowance of $599,890. Frink said the project didn’t exceed its budget.
It was the city’s hope to open its splash pad park in October, but torrential downpours and slow supply lines delayed completion.
Surrounding the 1,000-square-foot splash pad, which is angled slightly so it can drain water back through filters, is a shaded area, shower, landscaping and sidewalks wrapping around new grass.
Children can enjoy the park’s daytime waterworks, but sunset opens up other opportunities.
Within each fountain is a ring of light, which colors the water as it jets from the ground, creating an enticing scene for people young and old to enjoy at night.
Workers also poured a slab of concrete underneath the water tower to provide space for either an event or outdoor seating for whatever business will rent out the historic pump house from the city.
“It’s going to be a place for parents and for grandparents to bring kids to play," Frink said, "and for residents just to come by ... and hopefully enjoy a focal point of downtown and relax."