AMERICA’S only new waterpark for 2020, Soaky Mountain Waterpark in Sevierville, in the Smoky Mountain region of Tennessee, opened its doors to the public at the end of June.

The 50 acre park has been built by the Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks group and is located across the street and up the hill from the Sevierville Convention Centre and Wilderness at the Smokies Resort.

Highlights of the park include the Avalaunch, a first-of-its kind, two-person tube water coaster with three uphill blast zones, four flying saucer features that create a drop-and-dive sensation and one wave curved wall; Soaky Surge, a 35,000sq.ft wavepool capable of generating waves 6ft high; Black Bear Rapids, an adventure river encompassing 24,000 sq.ft; and The Hive, a bee-themed play-and-spray feature with countless hands-on activities for younger children.

In addition to the Avalaunch water coaster, there are other huge slides including two five-person raft rides, Blue Mountain Mayhem, featuring two gravity challenging walls, and Rainbow Revenge, a state-of-the-art waterslide experience that dazzles the senses with translucent lighting technology and three saucer turns; a tubing tower with five flumes; two high-intensity body slides; and Splash and Furious, a four-lane, head-first mat racing challenge through alternating sections of side by side racing.

Other thrill rides at the park are the Whoop, a trap door, free-fall launch attraction which sees guests plummet down a slide into a runout finish; Holler, on which guests slide out of a start tube into a gentle descent before “dropping off of the face of the Earth” in a “stomach in your throat” experience before a runout finish; and HANG 10ESSEE, a double FlowRider with wave riding action for surfing fans.

Additional family rides include Copperhead Clash, a double flumed tube slide with side-by-side racing sections throughout; Cottonmouth Coils, an enclosed tube slide with translucent lighting effects and three explosion turns; Timber Rattler’s Rage, a slow and go one or two-person tube slide which takes guests on a journey through three distinct Tornado funnel sections; Slippery Salamanders, a double-lane inflatable water obstacle course; and Coyote Springs, a 3,800sq.ft flat-water cabana pool with a sun shelf for relaxing poolside in a private cabana or just out of the way of the hustle and bustle of the rest of the park.

For younger guests, in addition to the aforementioned The Hive, there is also Boomers Bay, a children’s activity pool area with smaller versions of the adult-size towering slides including Lil’ Rattlers and Mini Mayhem.

Another unusual component of the waterpark are some unique food options. Building upon the popularity of food trucks, the park’s creators went on a nationwide search to find some noteworthy vehicles – and they found them.

In Montana, they purchased a 1954 AEC (Chassis) Regent III with Park Royal Vehicles Bodywork, which in its day was a double decker bus for the London Transit System. It is now home to Tacolicious, serving up Mexican favourites on the bottom level and offering seating overlooking the park and the Smoky Mountains on the upper level. The vehicle is located next to Soaky Surge. The other truck was purchased in Illinois and is now home to the Rolly Macaroni F&B outlet, which serves up all sorts of mac and cheese with unique twists! It is located by Black Bear Rapids.

Additionally, other F&B offerings are the Wipe Out Bar, the Bee Good Café, the Base Camp Bistro, the Soaky Shake Shoppe and the Overlook Bar which overlooks the wavepool. For guests seeking some retail therapy, there is the Candy Cabin, the Honeycomb Gifts and Gear outlet and the Mountain Mercantile, for sundries and souvenirs.

Commenting on the opening of the park, general manager Dave Andrews said: “We are so excited to be open to the public! Soaky is such a fun place for families and truly features something for all ages to enjoy, all in a beautiful mountain-modern park setting.”

Because of the COVID-19 situation the park’s officials have decided to postpone the grand opening celebration to the start of the 2021 season and have only had a soft opening in 2020. According to Andrews: “We want to throw a big celebration to mark the opening of this fabulous waterpark, but for right now, we will have to wait and practice responsible social distancing and other safety precautions outlined in our Safer at Play Programme.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, waterpark officials are strongly encouraging guests to purchase their daily admission tickets in advance at due to restricted capacity levels. Season pass holders are being accommodated. Masks are optional in the park and are not allowed in or on any water attractions.

The CDC (Centres for Disease Control) has stated there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs. With proper operation, maintenance and disinfection (e.g. with chlorine or bromine) the virus should be removed or inactivated. The park has also created a Safer at Play safety programme that it is following.

The new waterpark cost nearly $90m to construct and will have nearly 500 full- and part-time employees. It is anticipated it will draw over 400,000 visitors annually, of which 100,000 will be new visitors to Sevier County. It is also expected to increase the average nightly stays in the region while generating approximately $400,000 annually in Tourism Development Zone Tax.

ADG’s design and build challenge

Wilderness Resorts wanted to build a $90m, state-of-the-art, 50 acre outdoor “modern-mountain” waterpark featuring the most cutting-edge attractions in the industry.

The Soaky Mountain team originally considered a summer 2021 opening date, but the ADG team knew it could get the park open a season earlier. To do this, ADG took on the role of designer/builder and construction manager of the project, seeing the project through from concept to construction, meeting the budget and beating their original timeframe.

According to the company, there were several challenges that were faced and overcome throughout the project:

·      The site/geology: from the entry point to the furthest part of the waterpark, there was 100ft of elevation change and the site was composed primarily of shale rock. ADG’s construction team had to blast and move 750,000 yards of earth before work on the park could even begin. A key objective in ADG’s design was to preserve and showcase the unique elevation grade as much as possible, creating a unique “modern-mountain” landscape that allowed them to creatively design the amenities and attractions into the elevation versus just flattening it out.

·      Weather: throughout construction there were 60 days that were completely washed out, meaning construction crews were unable to use heavy machinery for two full months of project construction.

·      Pandemic: overcoming unknown/unprecedented obstacles of constructing a waterpark during a worldwide pandemic.

The solution

The water rides and attractions at Soaky Mountain feature the latest in ride innovation across all ride categories.

“The exciting thing about the attractions in this park is that most of the rides have innovative combinations of features or are hybrid dual-functioning rides, creating a truly unique and unexpected ride experience,” says Jim Dunn, president of Aquatic Development Group.

Beyond the ride mix, the park also features a “mountain modern” design which truly sets it apart from others in the industry. From the design, architecture and buildings to the multitude of unique F&B outlets located throughout the park, this modern flair, combined with a natural mountain vibe, was the perfect showcase for a waterpark situated only a few miles from the Smoky Mountains.

Aquatic Development Group was the designer and builder of all water features in the park, utilising its own WaveTek® wave systems in the wavepool and Tidal River ride. ADG also designed/supplied the dual-Wibit® inflatable water obstacle course, the adult cabana pool and the double FlowRider®. ProSlide developed the innovative slide package for Soaky Mountain which features several industry-first slides that were suitable to be constructed into the topography of the property.

The result

The biggest asset of this project was the ability to get it open a year earlier than the ownership group was aiming for.

“Designing and building a full outdoor waterpark in one year is definitely a challenge,” says Dunn, “but with our InDepth planning and design and our in-house project management, manufacturing and construction team, we can start a project by hitting the ground running, making the necessary on-the-spot decisions that will lead to achieving the owner’s goals, meeting the budget and getting the park open on time. Getting a waterpark open a season earlier than anticipated results in a significant financial return for the developer and ownership group of the property.”

Regardless of the environmental conditions, site complications or unprecedented circumstances, ADG completed Soaky Mountain with a build time of eight months, a feat the company is justifiably proud of.

At a glance

Opened in June 2020

Owned by Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks Group

Designed and constructed by Aquatic Development Group

Slides by ProSlide

Only new waterpark to open in the US this year

$90m investment

Covers 50 acres

Comprehensive mix of thrill, family and children’s attractions

All details correct at the time of publishing – InterPark magazine Sept/Oct 2020 edition