A unique combination of museum and waterpark, The Evergreen Air and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore., with its Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark, is fulfilling an educational and entertainment mission for the whole family.
The tie-in of the waterpark to the Air and Space Museum is as visual a treat as it is an experiential and educational one. Water flows out of four chutes emerging from a retired B747-100 jet aircraft that is positioned atop a 70,000-square-foot indoor waterpark building, and carries no less, hundreds of children floating within clear vinyl inner tubes, down to a waiting splash pool. The fun occurs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily throughout the summer months.
Founder Captain Micheal King Smith was so in awe of flight through the skies that he wanted to share his reverence with others by opening the museum, and by offering an educational component to carry his interest into the future. Continued improvements over the years to the museum, and the addition of the waterpark, extends his mission even further.
The museum typically attracted an older demographic, said Director of Special Events Melissa Grace. “And now the campus is growing. We created the waterpark for the whole family, to give options. Grandparents can go to the museum and kids and families can go to the waterpark. The park is part of the organization, and all is educational.”
For that reason, the park side has its own museum, H2O: “Life Needs Water,” dedicated to teaching about the power of water. Waterpark Operations Manager Brandon Roben noted, “Education is intertwined in everything throughout the facility, through theming and exhibits, as we expanded the original footprint to include the interactive science center containing hands-on exhibits.”
One of the exhibits that visitors encounter demonstrates, interactively, water in its various states. Another is a model of the Columbia River, complete with a miniature lock system for boats to float on. The visitor pushes a button for rain drops to fall down and flow out into the river, indicating the changing levels of the river as boats travel up and down stream past the dam.
A third demonstrates how we use water to generate energy, and the quantity it takes to produce electricity. As the kids push buttons that move pistons up or down, they see that they are adjusting the height of the water. Increasing water flow through the dam past the generator translates on the voltage meter to more electricity. Stopping to push the pistons down stops the water flow and the volt meter goes to zero.
At a water management exhibit, operating a series of buttons also manipulates water flow. The buttons connect to valves that open to pump water into a model of a harbor where a motorboat and sailboat float, to lights that illuminate as a generator spins producing electricity, or to another connection providing drinking water. The objective is to open the valves for sufficient water to keep the boats afloat, though not overflowing the dam and flooding the town, to generate electricity, and to provide drinking water. “The purpose of the exhibit is to constantly have to regulate the various valves that accomplish all those tasks, just as in real life,” said Roben.
In addition to families coming through the water attraction and science center on their own, said Roben, school groups meet with Evergreen teachers in the education department that provides a number of programs in the science center and demonstrations in the pool where the teachers work with the students. One scenario might be a demonstration in the science center, followed by a talk about how the water slides work and then the kids playing in the waterpark with access to its 10 slides and wave pool.
Tour buses roll in on a regular basis, said Grace, resulting from a labyrinth of interconnections that spread the word about the benefits of holding events at the waterpark space. Many military retirees volunteer at the Evergreen campus, increasing military connections with the area. Grace works with tourism groups that support the park, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and many other destination marketing organizations.
In addition to the group sales department’s promotions and media buys, hosting internal events that are mission-related attracts many families, explained Grace. “We offer a discount for groups of 15 or more. Often, families call to say they’ll be in town and arrange to get the discount. Much of our focus is toward group sales.”
Whatever the group enjoying the park, when the water play works up an appetite, they head for the Milky Way Café, where, said Catering and Cafe Manager Sharon Gault-Pankey, “By far and away the most popular item is the pizza because it’s fast, fills kids up quickly, and provides them with energy to go hit the slides again. They are constantly placing orders for more, whether cheese, pepperoni or combo. The second-favorite item is the ice cream that’s in the grab-and-go case.”
As further museum exhibits evolve, product development for the gift shop will be a priority, according to Randy Lemke, retail director for the museum. The majority of the merchandise in the small store, just opened concurrent with the waterpark in June of 2011, relates to redemption in the arcade. “Toys about how water is used in energy and also aviation, is the direction we’re going,” said Lemke. For now, puzzles regarding sea life and T-shirt prints of dolphins and whales are the specific water-related items that tie in to the water theme.
Roben, who is also responsible for training employees and lifeguards, together with the management team and lifeguard instructor, reviews the in-house policies and procedures materials with new trainees. To develop training materials more specific to the Evergreen philosophy, the purchase of textbooks and training materials is in progress.
“It’s important to constantly reveal how to do things. I’ve learned over the years that everyone learns differently, so to be flexible with the learning tools, because what works for one group of students doesn’t work for the next. So it’s best to adjust the materials and adapt to individual and specific group needs,” he said.
The World Waterpark Association (WWA) recognized the park’s training program excellence with a 2011 SWIM! Award in the Employee Training Programs category. What better way to educate guests than modeling excellence in teaching within the organization itself. –