I’m standing at the top of a tall tangle of bright red and blue slides at Ridge Waters, Butte’s brand new outdoor waterpark, as a teenage lifeguard gives a steady stream of dripping kids the green light to hop in, hang on, and ride down.
Twelve year old Raina climbs in without a moment of hesitation, cheerfully amphibious, contrary to what might be in her stars.
“I’ve always loved water slides and water even though I’m a Leo," she says. "Can I go now?”
These sparkling water slides are just one of the features that makes Ridge Waters a very different animal from the pool facility it replaced. It also has Montana’s longest lazy river, lots of play structures, climbing walls, diving boards, a jacob’s ladder, and big buckets that splash water at random intervals.
Standing in the new atrium, Butte-Silver Bow County’s Parks and Recreation director J.P. Gallagher says all those amenities offer, “lots of activity so people can spend the day here. In the plain old pool - it was predominantly swimming. We have that here as well, but there’s a lot more than just swimming laps.”
Richard Merenz, from Butte, and his three kids were some of those planning to spend the rapidly warming June day there. He was relaxing in a deck chair, happy the park is small enough to keep an eye on all of his children from that one spot.
“We’ve been waiting for the pool to open. They’ve been so excited. I got three of them here. One has not left the slide. The other one is just floating wherever he can, and the other one is stuck to the diving board.”
Lots of people I talked to expressed that “it’s about time” feeling. That’s because Butte’s last outdoor pool shuttered in 2005 due to widespread structural failure.
The site at Stodden Park in Butte sat idle for more than a decade until voters passed a $7.5 million bond issue in 2016. An additional $500,000 came from the Butte-based Town Pump, as an incentive for the community to raise another million.
The park finally opened this week, after a series of delays, mostly weather related, pushed it back from Memorial Day Weekend.
In addition to the flashier, splashier features — there are more subtle parts of the park’s design. Like two chair lifts, and a zero depth entry — which allows toddlers to waddle in, and those in wheelchairs to roll right into the pool without any barriers. Gallagher says it was important to him that it not be restrictive in any way.
“This is an all abilities pool. It’s something for everybody. No matter what our limitations are, whether we can swim or not, you can be comfortable in our pool. You can be in from zero inches all the way down to eight and a half feet.”
Now that the pool is finally open, locals, especially younger ones, are flocking to it. 17-year-old Justice Ross was floating near the slides with her little sister, happy there’s a new place for Butte kids to play outside. She lives a few blocks away from Stodden Park, and has been eagerly checking on the pool’s progress for the last two years.
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“It actually blew me away. I like how it represents the Columbia Gardens. Because Columbia Gardens was a long time ago, so in order for them to make all this come to life from the Columbia Gardens makes it even more special.”
What she’s talking about are extra touches like a roller coaster cart perched at the top of one of the aquatic play features, and a carousel horse that little kids can climb on. These are echos of Columbia Gardens, Butte’s beloved lost amusement park which closed and then burned down in the 1970s and was located where the open pit of the active copper mine is now.
J.P. Gallagher with Parks and Rec says he hopes that the modern Ridge Waters will serve a similar purpose for families in Butte.
“It really is a big part of our history and the people who have grown up in Butte. And that was their playground during their childhood. And now this going to be our kids' playground. The kids that are going to show up here, they’re going to remember Ridge Waters, like our parents, and even I got to enjoy the Columbia Gardens just for about a year, I was pretty young. The memories of that, that’s what the kids are going to think of here.”
Around 500 people visited Ridge Waters on its opening day. But these humans weren’t the first to enjoy the new park. During the final phase of construction, a baby moose found its way into the pool.
“The way I look at it, we’ll take it as a sign that maybe we got a new mascot here. We’re gonna name that moose, 'Ridge the moose', and make it a part of our facility.”
Butte’s new outdoor water park will be open through Labor Day Weekend.