Take a minute and think of your fondest childhood memories of summer. You probably spent plenty of time outside. You likely had a core group of neighborhood friends, always around and able to get away with just enough to keep from getting into trouble with your parents. Maybe you were a member of a summer baseball, softball or soccer league.
And you had water, lots of it. Whether in yard activities powered by a water hose or an area creek or pond, or your community pool, water was as much a part of your summer fun as almost anything else you did.
Today, achieving that same level of enjoyment for people of all ages is one of the goals at the Benton Aquatic Center.
“We are incredibly blessed with what we have to offer the people of Saline County,” says Adam Nelsen, Benton Parks and Rec Aquatics Director. “When people who have never seen the Center or maybe didn’t know it was here see it, their immediate reaction is, ‘Wow.’”
Nelsen (who began competitive swimming in Little Rock more than 40 years ago) and the Benton Parks and Rec team expect more wows as they prepare for their fifth summer in Saline County.
“I believe we have the best and most perfectly balanced facility in the state of Arkansas,” he said. “We have an eight-lane competition pool, a separate leisure pool with a splash pad, a vortex pool and a two-story slide that moves in and out of the building.
“Throughout the year, we’ll bring in a climbing wall and put inflatables in the pool. The kids absolutely love that,” he added. “And because we have a diverse selection of amenities, we are able to strike a great balance between hosting competitive events like the Arkansas State Championships and summer recreational time like our pool party weekends, where families can come and enjoy the day.”
Opened in April of 2017, the Benton Aquatics Center sits on the site of the former Benton Airport. Each year, attendance and membership numbers have risen, a result Nelsen credits to both community outreach and the necessity of learning proper swimming technique.
“The heartbeat of any good pool is its swimming program,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether a kid is a non-competitive swimmer or wants to be the next Michael Phelps. I think it’s important that every child understand the very basics of being able to swim.”
To help educate young swimmers on those basic principles, the Aquatics Center offers free introductory lessons. Nelsen says it’s something a lot of families are taking advantage of. “It’s great for the kids to get the pool time, learn general safety and learn how to swim. Afterward, it’s not unusual for us to see families get a membership or even do group swim lessons.”
Pool safety among swimmers isn’t the only priority when considering the overall health of the Aquatics Center. With so much attention still being paid to COVID-19 and a continued adherence to proper protocols, the facility has in place several practices to keep the water and the facility sanitized.
“Considering that the Center has multiple layers of sanitation and filtration, we have one of the safest pools in the U.S.,” Nelsen said. “In addition to chlorine, which is known to kill coronavirus in less than a minute, we also have UV sanitizing for the water to keep it cycling and extremely clean. We’ve also installed sanitizing dehumidifiers for purifying the air inside the building.
“I think we’re to make a real effort toward getting things back to the way they used to be,” he added. “We’ll still do a great job with social distancing, and as the guidelines change, we’ll be able to relax and free up our customers and swimmers a bit more and increase capacity.”
In addition to the growing popularity of the Aquatics Center, Benton Parks and Rec has also improved its splash pad access in South Benton’s Tyndall Park area. The area has expanded parking, is free to the public and is slated to open on May 15.
“It’s a really cool expansion because it incorporates some nice sustainable technology,” Nelsen said. “Now the system allows us to conserve water because much of it will be pushed back through a recirculation pump. We’ve also upgraded the filtration system to include UV, which makes it safer with even cleaner water.
“If you want a place to come out, get wet, splash around and have fun with your friends, the Tyndall Park splash pad will certainly be the place to go, especially on those hot summer days,” he added.
Nelsen says the splash pad will likely remain open beyond Labor Day this year.
For information on classes, competitions, and event reservations at the Benton Aquatics Center, visit www.bentonar.org/aquaticscenter or give them a call at 501-776-5994.