FEDERAL HEIGHTS, Colo. (CBS4) – Denver’s iconic Water World theme park announced Tuesday it would not open for the 2020 season. It came among growing concerns of how it can manage safety around the coronavirus.

“There have been many times where we’ve had to brush snow off the attractions to get the park open, but doggonit, we’ve gotten it open every year, and so this is the first time in 40 years that it won’t open, and it’s really sad,” said Joann Cortez, Director of Communications for Hyland Hills Parks and Recreation District.

Water World (credit: CBS)

Water World is the nation’s largest family water park, and the first publicly-owned park in the country. Its size and longstanding relationship with the community, Cortez says, made the decision especially hard.

“Most of the kids in the area have had a stint at Water World and for most kids, it’s their first job and we take that really seriously,” she said.

There were 800 employees hoping for a position at the park this summer. It’s part of the reason Water World had to make a decision quickly.

“Because if there’s an opportunity for these kids to find a job somewhere else, we don’t want to hold them back. We’ve already held 800 of them back to a degree.”

She said Water World put together a team to go over every possible scenario for reopening.

“They looked at every single operational component of the park. Safety is always paramount. They looked at, ‘How many employees can we get?’ and ‘How could we keep them safe? How could we do social distancing?’” she said. “‘What kind of sanitization processes do we need to employ? I mean everything that you can think of. The security. Everything was thought of.”

(credit: Water World)

Cortez has worked in communications for 22 years and said for the size of the park, planning for so many unknowns was beyond difficult.

“I mean, we’re 70 acres. It would just be impossible for us to get all of the training and get all of the certification for our 300 plus lifeguards done.”

She has hope for some of the smaller Denver metro area attractions. (On Tuesday, Lakeside Amusement Park told CBS4 that while things have been difficult, it hasn’t made a decision about opening. The historic theme park is in the process of naming its new rollercoaster and refurbishing its original 1907 tower — things it hopes to have continued public involvement in to make it through the summer. It said no matter what, it plans to be open in some capacity to the public this summer.)

Even if public pools carry a longer restriction, for Water World, Cortez says it’s not about being able to operate pools.

“We’ve been told that there is no opportunity for COVID to live in a chlorinated pool, so pool water is safe. That’s not the issue. It’s the issue of social distancing and how do you keep people safe outside of the pool?”

Elitch Gardens (credit: CBS)

Denver’s iconic Elitch Gardens is still waiting on more guidance from the state, but told CBS4 in a statement Tuesday:

“The safety and well-being of our Guests and Team Members is our top priority here at Elitch Gardens. Therefore, in view of the current situation and in line with orders provided by government officials, the opening of the 2020 season is temporarily delayed. In preparation for Opening Day, we are developing significantly increased sanitation protocols and standards as well as communications and procedures for managing appropriate social distancing so that when our Guests and Team Members return they can do so safely. As soon as we have the new Opening Day confirmed we will announce it.”

While Water World said it would take a financial hit, Cortez said there’s no doubt they will be back for the 2021 season.

“We really want to be part of the Colorado solution, how we attack this virus,” Cortez said. “We’re going take a little bit of a hit but we’re going to be just fine and we’re going to come back stronger in 2021.”

Jamie Leary

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