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Ridge Waters delights with features for all ages

Attendance and revenue at Butte's new water park, pictured here in June, continues to exceed expectations by far. The park closes after Labor Day in two weeks.

Attendance at Butte’s new water park has dipped a bit recently, but admissions and revenue continue to exceed expectations. By far.

Ridge Waters opened nearly a month after it was supposed to and will close for the season after Labor Day, but even with a late start, attendance has topped 30,000 and the water park has brought in $238,365 from concessions, cabana rentals and admissions from opening day, June 27, through this weekend, parks officials said Monday.

Although they admit their estimates were on the conservative side, officials weren’t banking on more than $50,000 in revenue this season. It was a difficult estimate to make since Butte had been without an outdoor public pool since 2006.

Because prolonged winter-like weather delayed final construction work, the pool opened about three weeks later than officials had hoped. But people have spent nearly $80,000 alone on concessions since it did, with the run-away favorite item and biggest money-maker being pretzels with cheese. Going into Monday, 4,880 had sold for a combined tab of $17,018.

Bottled water was a distant second, with 3,069 sold at a buck apiece. Nachos were third in number but second in revenue: 2,820 orders sold for a combined $9,870.

Admissions totaled nearly 12,000 in the first three weeks, and although it has dipped slightly of late, more than 500 people are going to Ridge Waters each day on average.

Simply put, the water park has been a big hit in Butte and beyond.

Mark Fisher, operations manager at Ridge Waters, said 70 percent of the 249 cabana rentals have been from people in Helena, Bozeman and other places outside of Butte-Silver Bow County.

He and Parks Director J.P. Gallagher gave a rundown of the numbers to members of the Parks and Recreation Board on Monday.

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“I don’t know that we could have projected it to go as well as it has,” Gallagher said.

The higher-than-expected revenues could save taxpayers a little money going forward.

Voters approved a bond in 2016 that paid $7.2 million of the water park’s overall $8.7 million in construction costs, with the rest coming from private donations and other county dollars. Residents will be paying off their portion of those fixed costs for the next 20 years or so.

But voters also approved a measure that can raise up to $350,000 per year in property taxes for the water park’s annual operation and maintenance costs. The amount was based on estimated annual costs of $400,000 — minus $50,000 in revenue from admissions, concessions and rentals.

Most of the $350,000 was levied this past year, but not all because of the delayed opening. But because of the big revenue numbers, it’s possible the amount charged on property tax bills could be pared down in the future, Gallagher said.

Of 30,375 in total admissions, Fisher reported, 16,653 were for daily youth swimming, 9,924 for adult swimming, 739 were seniors aged 61 and older and 739 were for deck admission. Parents, grandparents or guardians who do not swim can get in by purchasing a $2 deck pass.

Gallagher said there hasn’t been an entire day lost because of stormy weather, but morning swimming Monday was canceled because of thunderstorms and lightning.

Even though Monday was the coolest day so far this summer, he said people can still swim on cool days because water in the pool and lazy river is constantly kept at 85 to 86 degrees.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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