My family hit Como Park Regional Pool the second day it was open, along with hundreds of other people looking for relief from the 90-degree weather last weekend. While we waited in line to get in, impatient children ran up to the black metal fence and stood like prisoners peering longingly through the bars at pools of sparkly, blue water.
"Look they have a zip line!" a child shouted.
"I want to go to the fat slide and where the orange swirly thing is with water coming down," said my 6-year-old daughter.
Their excitement was understandable. It has been a long, long wait. After closing the old Como pool in 2008, the city of St. Paul is finally opening a completely new water park in its place, with a lap pool, a diving pool, a
Like many of our neighbors in the northern half of St. Paul, we were tired of driving to the Highland Aquatic Center or to water parks in the suburbs and are thrilled that St. Paul has added a second outdoor water park just a couple of miles from our home.
It's a lovely facility, with a natural-looking climbing wall, landscaping that softens the concrete decking and energy-efficient innovations. The only thing I'd ask for is more shade. As my mom friend who came with us said, "You can never have too much shade or too many chairs."
By the time we arrived, all the picnic tables under shade pavilions were taken -- and so were all
My husband stretched out to read; my boys, ages 9 and 12, ran off to play with friends; and I took my 6-year-old daughter to the wading pool.
A few tall metal tubes topped with green plastic leaves and orange spinning flowers rained down a gentle sprinkle. I stood in thigh-high water watching as my daughter circled down the slides and up the stairs over and over again. One short slide is extra wide to accommodate several people together.
Next we tried the Lazy River, a much smaller version of the big loop at the Waterpark of America. We could have both climbed into a double raft, but my daughter wanted to have a raft for herself. This proved to be a mistake.
We happily floated along the current for a while, admiring the tiny blue tiles on the walls. But there were sprinklers ahead, and I was too busy figuring out how to keep my glasses dry to notice that my daughter had drifted down a left fork while I veered to the right. I watched with dismay as my daughter bobbed toward a cascade falling from an overhead pipe.
"Mama, mama!" she yelled plaintively, and reached toward me. This is the child who only a few months ago was shrieking when she got her head wet in the shower. Unable to turn around with all the rafts crowding in, I smiled and waved fiercely at her.
"Oh, how fun!" I yelled, in that fake way parents project cheerful optimism in an effort to distract their children from something ominous. "It'll be like going through a car wash!"
She looked like she would burst into tears, but she flashed me a game smile just before she floated under Gooseberry Falls.
"That wasn't the Lazy River," she said, emerging drenched on the other side. "That was the Awesome River!"
But she was all bravado. It took her a couple of hours before she was willing to go through again with her dad, and then she made sure he stayed on the right fork, where the gentle
My 9-year-old son's favorite spot was the diving pool, with a back wall of fake rock. It looked like that ubiquitous fake rock you see in zoo exhibits, and my friend and I started referring to it as the grizzly pit.
Kids were diving into the water from two openings at 2 meters and 3 meters and from a diving board across the pool. Others were climbing up the rock face. Lifeguards only let them go one at a time to prevent them from falling on each other.
The pool originally planned to attach brightly colored rock-climbing handholds, but decided instead to mold climbing handholds directly into the wall. It's just one example of how designers aimed for a more natural look.
Hundreds of perennials, including little bluestem and Russian sage, are planted in mulched beds that run straight down to the water. There are lilacs by the picnic tables and young pine by the back fence. A row of disease-resistant elm trees will provide more shade as they mature.
The most popular attraction was the zip line, which ran from the top of the rock wall two-thirds of the way across a 25-meter lap pool. Friends Gwen Kosiak and Cynthia Lancaster were sitting on one of the many boulders and watching 9-year-old Ruby Kosiak come sailing down the line, dangling from the handle and then plunging into the pool.
Would she recommend it to friends?
"Yes, yes, yes!" said Ruby. Was she scared? Apparently not, but her mother was.
"I feel there should be a bit more space," Kosiak said, referring to the size of the diving pool and the length of pool beyond the zip line. "They must have done lots of safety studies, right?"
Other than that, she praised all the activities in the park, comparing it favorably to Cascade Bay in Eagan.
"This is smaller," said Kosiak. "But I actually like it better because I can keep an eye on my children more easily."
Lancaster likes it so much she already has purchased a season pass. Her only complaint was the long wait in line. Some people waited more than an hour to get in last weekend, a delay caused in part by people filling out paperwork for season passes.
While that will ease up over the next few weeks, Lancaster said there should be an option for buying a season pass online -- there isn't -- and she would like to see a separate line for pass holders so they can get in more quickly.
"It's something we're looking into," said Como Pool supervisor Marques Matthias, who said the city is listening carefully to comments from users over the first couple of weekends and hoping to tweak a few things in response.
The only thing I heard other people mention was the lack of a big water slide. The original design called for one, but the city didn't have enough money to install it. Footings are embedded into the island in the center of the Lazy River, so if and when the city decides to add a large water slide, it should be fairly easy, said Matthias.
Some of the most interesting features of the new pool are out of sight, such as the high-efficiency Neptune-Benson filters in the mechanical room that allow the pool to use less water than conventional filters. Solar tubes on the roof heat water for the showers and concession stand (but not the pool water). And sphagnum moss filters, which the city piloted at Highland in 2009, cut in half the chlorine needed to clean the water, Matthias said.
After several hours at the pool, my husband and I handed off our daughter to a friend and headed down the Lazy River, just the two of us. No kids. But there was a short line, and just as we were next up for rafts, the pool called a safety break and ordered everyone out of the water for 20 minutes.
Our kids drifted back to the towels and with everyone in one spot, it seemed a good time to head home. I'll have to save my romantic Lazy River ride for next time.
Maja Beckstrom can be reached at 651-228-5295.
What: Como Regional Park Pool
Where: Como Park, St. Paul (on Como Avenue, just east of Lexington Parkway)
Information: 651-489-0378 or ci.stpaul.mn.us under Parks and Recreation/Aquatics
Hours: Open swim noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3; open daily for summer beginning June 9, through Labor Day; check website for hours, lap swim, water aerobics and lesson times.
Cost: $4.50 (under 48 inches); $5 age 16 and younger; $6.50 adult; $6 lap swim/water aerobics; $16 family up to five members ($3 additional member); seasonal pass is $195 per family
Target audience: St. Paulites tired of driving to swim in the suburbs
Crowd pleaser: The zip line and the Lazy River
Avoid: Sunburn. Bring big hats, cover-ups and lots of sunscreen. There isn't much shade.
Tip: The family season pass for St. Paul residents is worth the $195 if you plan to go to the water park more than a dozen times this summer.
Special event: Have a birthday party coming up? Rent poolside picnic tables under the shaded pavilions for $50 per hour.