WILDWOOD CREST – Leonard Mbah of Buffalo, New York, seemed to be having more fun than his two young daughters at the new splash park at Sunrise Park.
Wearing flip-flops, a bathing suit and a sopping white T-shirt, he waited as water filled one of three cone-shaped buckets and then tipped over to soak him with a splash.
“I love water,” he said during a recent visit.
He led Leona, 1, and Adannaya, 4, through the fountains of water while his wife, Menna Mbah, took video on her phone.
This is the first summer for the new feature at the popular beachfront park. According to Mayor Don Cabrera, it was completed this spring. Plans call for a grand opening later this month, but the borough turned on the water for Memorial Day Weekend, and with little notice or publicity it is already drawing crowds.
Cabrera believes the public park to be unique in Cape May County. It’s set between Ocean Avenue and the wide field of dunes lining the beach.
Bill Straining, 14, of Pennsylvania, was visiting the area with his family. A relative was completing training at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, which prompted the visit. Although only in town for a short while, he seemed to have the park dialed in, demonstrating the electronic button that gets the water going when people are ready to splash.
The park is open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily. There is no cost to enter. Crest officials said new signs have been ordered, set to be delivered and installed in the coming weeks, and more fences and landscaping are planned for the park.
The afternoon began to cool, but people continued to arrive to enjoy the park. Among them were Howard “Hook” LeConey with his daughter, Makena, and son, Buxton. The twins are 14 months old. LeConey said they are Wildwood Crest locals. He’s pleased to see the beachfront addition.
“We’re always looking to create unique attractions,” said Cabrera. “Moms, dads, grandparents will like to bring their little kids to watch them splash around.”
The park features multiple jets of water, but no standing water. Instead, it immediately drains from the surface. Think of it like running through a sprinkler, only more so. Sometimes called a splash pad or “sprayground,” the parks are popular in northern New Jersey but seem rare in beach towns.
It is set between the children’s playground and a fitness center with exercise equipment, all close to the beachfront bike path. The Wildwood Boardwalk does not extend into Wildwood Crest. Cabrera also plans events on the lawn of the park this summer.
A grant of more than $283,000 from Open Spaces Cape May County, what had formerly been called the Cape May County Open Space Fund, helped fund the work. Cabrera said the borough also has added two foot-rinsing stations.
The total cost of the project was $640,000, according to Brian Cunniff, the assistant recreation supervisor and the borough’s public information officer. That cost includes new playground equipment on one side of the splash park and exercise equipment on the other, as well as new bike racks, more seating and other improvements.
The borough will cover the cost of the water. According to Cunniff, that will not exceed $16,000, the estimated cost if the water were left running the whole time the park is open. The water runs for 15 minutes, and then shuts off until the button is pushed again.
The response has been positive, Cunniff said. Families have been using it every day.
Several of those at the park this week said they were surprised to find the water park when returning to the beach town this year, and happy to see it.
“It’s there to have some fun, to get wet and rinse off after the beach,” Cabrera said.