Sprinkling and splashing will be heard this spring as children play at the new splash park in Lake Butler.
The park is a city project that will provide the youth of the community with the opportunity to get involved in a safe outdoor activity.
Funding for the Lake Butler Children’s Splash Park came in part from a $650,000 Community Development Block grant the city received to create a fire station, said Cassandra Neta Herndon, procurement director for the city of Lake Butler.
The park opens March 20 and is primarily designed for 13-year-olds and younger. The age limit will give younger children the opportunity to enjoy the park without having to compete with older kids for the equipment, Herndon said.
Pop-up spray features, hanging water buckets and a tunnel will be included at the park, which is located near the Lake Butler Community Center and the children’s playground at the lake. Revenues from the city’s water industry will fund maintenance.
“The city of Lake Butler supports its community in its entirety,” Herndon said. “We are going to try our best to accommodate every age level and every individual in this community.”
Herndon said all members of the community are welcomed to enjoy the park for free.
Cynthia Kent, supervisor of the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions in Union County, said recreational activities like this contribute to the overall growth and development of young children. Kids can learn about basic things like directional concepts and colors.
“There is really nothing in the community for little children,” Kent said. “This is a wonderful asset.”
Mary Brown, Lake Butler resident and director of the Union County Public Library, said many of the families in Union County can’t afford tickets to Disney World and expensive family vacations.
The median household income in Union County for 2010 was about $42,000, according to a report by the Florida Department of Health.
“It’s important to have these types of activities where you don’t have to shell out money to have a good time,” Brown said.
She’d like to see more cultural projects, like theaters and music halls, develop in the area, but funds are very limited in rural communities, she said.
Brown said the lack of funding for creative activities can isolate children from diversity, which limits their imagination and what they think their future might hold.
“This community takes extreme pride in every little thing these kids are doing,” Brown said. “As we continue to look after their interests, I think we could see great things come out of the children and families involved.”
The project was intended to expose children to more exercise and outdoor activities, less electronics indoors, Herndon said.
“We want to get them away from the computer,” Herndon said. “We want to get them off the phone. We want to show them the sunshine.”
Joe Pietrangelo, Florida Department of Health administrator for Union County, said children in the area have few opportunities for exercise activities outside of physical education classes in school and sports teams.
“Anything that addresses childhood and youth obesity is important,” he said.
According to the same report by the Florida Department of Health, 40 percent of middle school students and 38.5 percent of high school students in Union County had insufficient physical activity in 2012. About 15 percent of both middle and high school students are obese.
Pietrangelo said it’s important to address the problem early to prevent its impact later on in life.
John Bonacci, CEO of the North Central Florida YMCA, said playing with technology indoors instead of going outside to play with other children can lead kids to lack social skills.
Sometimes they become socially awkward because they live in a virtual world, so they don’t learn how to interact with real people and deal with difficult situations, he said.
In order for outdoor activities like the splash park to have a significant impact on children, they need to be constructive and supervised, he said, and they have to be something the kids want to do.
Kids who play outside are in a better mood by the time they come home because they’ve burned off energy, Bonacci said. It could also prevent them from getting into trouble, whether the trouble stems from boredom or negative influences from older kids.
“The more positive things we provide for kids,” Bonacci said. “The more positive outcomes we’ll see in the years to come.”