Pawnee Plunge open for season this weekend

May 24, 2019

The opening of the Pawnee Plunge Water Park over Memorial Day Weekend has routinely been plagued with adverse weather conditions resulting in residents staying indoors rather than soaking up rays outside.

Fortunately, when the Plunge opens for the season at noon on Saturday, it’s looking like Mother Nature should be cooperating. Athough a heatwave is not in store, AccuWeather is calling for Columbus to be partly sunny with temperatures reaching the high 70s.

“It really is weather dependent,” Aquatics Manager Brook Tomka said, regarding the success of the opening weekend. “If it’s warm, we usually will get about a thousand people out over the holiday weekend … And then we always have the handful of kids where it doesn’t matter (if it’s chilly), they have thick hides so they are OK.”

Since 2006, the Plunge has been offering community members and out-of-towners the opportunity to splash and play at one of the biggest, most modern water parks in the state. Fremont, Norfolk, Hastings and Grand Island all have facilities, but they are at least 40-50 miles away. Grand Island is comparable in size, but doesn’t have the modern appeal, Tomka said.

The decision to build a water park attraction was made in the early 2000s and the facility was open for business in 2006.

“The old Pawnee Pool was to the point where it was just costing too much to repair it, so they (city) were going to have to do something for an outside pool, so they decided to do a water park,” said Tomka, who has overseen the facility since its inception.

During the past two seasons, Tomka said that about 51,000 people each year attended the Plunge during its summer months. In 2016, that number hovered right around 53,000. What always pleasantly surprises – and pleases – Tomka is the number of out-of-towners who make the several-miles trip to Columbus and Platte County to benefit from one of its main attractions.

“You really would be surprised by the people who come in from out of town to the (water) park, and then eat at our restaurants and stay at our hotels and shop at our Walmart,” she said. “It really helps get some traffic flowing.”

Deb Loseke, director of the Columbus/Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the Pawnee Plunge provides a unique experience in comparison to other play facilities families may attend.

“It attracts people from out of town because it offers activities that others (water parks) don’t in Eastern Nebraska with the FlowRider, rock climbing wall and the (four) slides that others don’t have. Even Lincoln and Omaha don’t have water parks that offer what Columbus’ does.”

Loseke noted she and her cohorts put together weekend mini-vacations for families interested in relocating or doing business in Columbus and the county. They are offered activities like attending the Plunge, going mini-golfing and visiting the Horn T Zoo in Monroe.

The Plunge, she said, is always one of the main draws.

Tomka said that she and her staff have been working for two to three months preparing for opening weekend. It’s an endeavor requiring many hands on deck and a substantial amount of hours worked.

“Maintenance staff has to get all of the pool basins washed and repainted and then you have to make sure that all of the plumbing is ready to go, filters are ready to go and that the slides are washed and buffed,” she said.

“… And today (Wednesday) we have some lifeguards out who are washing the hundreds of chairs we have, and the entire inside of the facility is getting cleaned. Then we have to make sure concessions are ready, food is ordered and the Pepsi products are in place.”

It’s a lot of work, but Tomka said she always enjoys what she does. The water park is one of the many pieces of the community that makes Columbus what it is.

“I enjoy it, I do love my job, because I’ve really done this forever,” Tomka said, noting that she operated several pools throughout her life before being named aquatics director in Columbus. “I love the city people, the park board and our staff. It’s just a good fit.”

The Pawnee Plunge, 560 33rd Ave., is open from noon through 8 p.m. seven days weekly once it opens. For more information regarding the facility, those with questions are encouraged to call 402-562-4269.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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