These kids came for the spray park! Image by Elisa Waske used with permission.

DC has 24 “spray parks,” which are basically playgrounds with fountains that spray water all over kids while they play. Up until now, they’ve been programmed to stop functioning at 7 pm even though parks stay open until dark. But starting this Friday, the District is going to keep the water flowing until 8:30 each night.

What are spray parks?

In DC, there are 24 water recreation areas which the Department of Parks and Recreation refers to as spray parks. In other parts of the country, similar areas might be called “splash pads” or “spray pools.”

Parks of this sort typically have little or no standing water, which substantially limits the risk of drowning. so much so that a lifeguard is not required and the parks may be open to public with limited staffing.

In most of DC’s spray parks, nozzles spray water upwards from ground level. Some spray parks, like Petworth Rec, have additional features including overhead buckets, arches with nozzles, and posts with nozzles. Some spray parks, like the one in Columbia Heights, are limited to nozzles in the ground. In many DC spray parks, after a set period of time, the water pressure diminishes and the spraying ceases until someone re-activates it by pressing a button.

Spray park hours are expanding

This past Saturday, Petworth Jazz was in full swing, bringing hundreds of neighbors to the Petworth Rec Center at 8th and Taylor streets NW. The rec center’s lovely spray park was full of children shrieking with delight as water sprayed every which way, with parents happily watching as their kids enjoyed a special summer treat. And then, all of a sudden, with daylight still strong, the jets slowed to a trickle and nozzles feel silent. Kids tried to restart the flow of water but they were unsuccessful.

That was because it was only 7 o’clock, with plenty of daylight left. And at that time, the policy was to keep spray parks open from 10 am to 7 pm. (Also, they start running on Memorial Day weekend and stop on or around Labor Day).

DC Parks and Recreation (DPR) policy is soon to change so that spray parks open at 9:30am and close at 8:30pm.

Parks & Rec staff acted quickly on this

When the fountains cut off on Saturday, I took a picture and shared it with DPR. Other parents did so as well, including Drew Schneider of Petworth News. Drew’s tweet was especially effective at attracting attention to the issue.

Soon, Councilmember Anita Bonds responded, indicating her support for later hours. Jackson Carnes of Councilmember Brandon Todd’s staff reached out and we discussed options for improving the situation. I also spoke with the mayor’s staff.

All considered the issue carefully and, I am pleased to say, changed the policy to something that better serves DC.

This is a smart change since it’s low-cost and high benefit. It’s great to see DPR responding to community input and making changes to help keep kids cool during the summer heat. Given that these spray parks require no additional staffing, shut down automatically if not in use, and typically recirculate water, there is little cost to keeping them open later. When they are, it means kids can enjoy them more.

These new hours will make life better for DC families by giving them another safe, cool option to beat the heat.

Zach Teutsch is an ANC commissioner and the chair ANC 4C, which covers Petworth and parts of some adjacent neighborhoods. He is committed to affordable housing, economically and racially diverse communities, thriving neighborhoods, and smart urbanism. He lives in Petworth with his wife and daughter.