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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Not making a splash: Splash Down closed again for the summer, citing challenge of COVID-19 enforcement

Erin Carlstrom, 11, of Spokane Valley, squints against the spray of water as she flies off the Jet Stream slide at Splash Down in Valley Mission Park on Aug. 12, 2003. Splash Down will be closed for the second summer in a row.  (Spokesman-Review file photo)

Splash Down will be dry once again this summer.

The Spokane Valley water park at Valley Mission Park never opened last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, people are allowed to tumble down waterslides once again, but Splash Down’s owners say they’d lose money if they had to operate in compliance with the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Splash Down is privately owned, but it’s on city property and pays the city $15,000 a year to operate. Because of that, the Bleasner family had to ask the city for permission to remain closed this summer and not pay the lease.

Spokane Valley City Council voted unanimously May 11 to amend Splash Down’s lease, allowing it to remain closed. The city is asking its insurance company to cover the $15,000 in lost revenue.

Councilmembers said the move was ultimately in the city’s best interest.

“If we don’t do this, I suspect we’ll be back next year with no contract at all,” Councilman Rod Higgins said at a May 4 council meeting.

Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick emphasized that he doesn’t want the water park to go out of business and fall into city hands.

“It’s better for us to have somebody else operate it,” Wick said at the meeting. “Anything we can do to help them out, the better off we’re going to be.”

Operating a water park in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines didn’t make financial sense for the Bleasner family.

“How do you manage social distancing at a water park?” Splash Down trustee Jim Greenup asked.

Greenup said enforcing social distancing in the water would be difficult, plus the water park would have to hire additional staff. Attendance would be lower and expenses would be greater.

“It became impractical, because the park is only open for 2.5 months,” Greenup said. “We have to do all this, and if we don’t do it perfectly we have the potential of being fined.”

In addition to the financial incentives to stay closed, Splash Down’s owners are looking to get out of the water park business.

Bill and Ruth Bleasner opened Splash Down in 1983. From 2005 to 2017, Geoff and Melissa Kellogg owned Splash Down, but the Bleasners took over again in 2018.

Bill Bleasner died last summer and Ruth Bleasner died this spring. Their children are looking to sell Splash Down.

Greenup said the intent is for Splash Down to remain a water park, though.

“We’ve appreciated the public’s support all these years,” Greenup said. “We’re trusting that that service and entertainment platform will be available next year, it’s just that we can’t operate with the restrictions that COVID has put on us.”