When Wadena Public Works director Dan Kovar walked past the wading pool with shovel in hand on an 87 degree Monday night, a group enjoying the cool water jokingly asked if he was starting to dig the site of the new splash park.

His affirming words took a woman by surprise. In fact, the project near the southwest complex is taking many by surprise. The splash pad went from what seemed like a dead deal to digging in the dirt in a year's time. That took planning, number crunching, a passionate group of people not willing to let the plan dry up and of course-money.. It's a project that has many surprised and excited to know it's happening, not unlike the Hwy 10 project, except for the 40 years or so timeframe.

A group of splash pad fans gathered Monday, July 1, to put shovel to dirt and break ground on the project that creates a new space for all ages to enjoy a cool down at no cost to users. And if everything goes swimmingly, you could be frolicing through the sprinklers of this new feature in early August.

Kovar previously said the Wadena park board identified the splash pad as a project they wanted to pursue in 2013, not long after the public swimming pool was destroyed by a tornado in 2010. While a pool was constructed within the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center, a desire remained to have an additional water feature to go with the remaining wading pool.

With Wadena adding this pad, it will be one of the only ones in the region. Park members said they looked to the design of a Royalton splash park when they started planning this park. They added that Detroit Lakes is researching the addition of a splash park, while others not too close include Crookston and Morris.

"They said it could never be done, you could never raise enough money for it," park board member Mike Pete said of the project Monday night with shovel in hand.

"My kids grew up at the pool," park board member Dean Krogstad said. "We bought a house in this area because of all of this stuff for our kids."

He and former city council member Deb Wiese lamented on the loss of the swimming pool to the tornado.

"I felt the loss of the pool," Wiese said. She made sure before exiting her city seat that whatever could be done to help pay the remaining balance on the project in 2019 should be done.

Members shared how a lot of people wanted to see that pool return, but a lot of excitement has built around this splash park coming in to fill a small area of the large southwest complex park. Wiese said it provides free entertainment for the community in a location that much of the neighborhood can get to with little transportation.

That free factor is an important one, Krogstad pointed out.

In writing grants for this project, Krogstad said he had to answer the question of why this project was needed when the town has such a facility as the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center. The fact is many people in the community can't pay the $4 a day for each of their kids to go to the pool. Anyone can go to this incoming pad including any ability as this is an inclusive water feature. It will be operational during the summer months and hours like the wading pool.

A splash park is a playground like area covered in sprinkler-type features that spray water over a large cement pad without any deep water areas, meaning users can wander freely through the area getting sprinkled with water without the need to swim. This particular design will feature 15 spray features for toddlers, families and teens to enjoy. It's also handicap accessible.

Kovar said more towns are looking at adding these features as they are a hot item right now. City administrator Janette Bower said that the splash park is expandable, too.

"If anyone is interested in contributing, there is room for expansion," park board member Sara Ross said, already looking forward to the future.

City council member and park board representative Mark Lunde lives across from the park and said this area sees a lot of use from the community.

Wadena Mayor George Deiss chimed in that all of Wadena's parks are well used.

"We have the nicest parks of any town within a hundred mile drive of here," Deiss said of the Wadena park system.

Of course there are costs for such a unique feature. The project is being paid for by donations ($21,500), grants ($28,000), city funds ($55,500), and an additional boost of $3,000 from the Wadena Parks Foundation to help pay for the balance of the $108,000 project.

In a perfect scenario this splash pad will be useable by early August.

"We're hoping to move dirt next week," Kovar said. "Equipment should arrive late July and we're hoping to open early August. That's the goal, I'm hoping we can meet it."

The splash park system comes from Vortex International and the Wadena splash pad was featured at a recent vendor show with over 700 attendees, according to Bower.