Helena-area residents flocked to Last Chance Splash Waterpark and Pool on its opening day of the season Monday to beat temperatures in the mid-80s.
Following a season marred by virus-related restrictions and closures, Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands leadership and staff said they are happy to be offering a full slate of lessons and classes and the reopening of the pool's waterslides.
"This is such an important resource for the community," Parks and Rec Director Kristi Ponozzo said, referencing the full suite of swim lessons available this season. "It'll be nice to have the water park open again too because the kids love it."
Nine-year-old Helena resident Emma Phillips said that for the last week, she was looking forward to Monday's family trip to the pool.
"It's fun," she said, adding that going down the waterslide was what she was looking forward to the most.
Emma's mom, Jamie Phillips, said it is good to have the all the pool facilities open again.
"There are a lot more options this year and a lot more fun," Jamie Phillips said. "It's so wonderful because there aren't too many options for kids in Helena."
Boulder resident Saundra Lowry brought her 12-year-old granddaughter to the pool Monday. Lowry, who works in Helena, said the time spent with her family at the municipal pool represents something of a return to normalcy following the health pandemic year, especially for her granddaughter who was there to meet up with a friend.
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"It's wonderful; we love this place," she said. "We're just so happy we're back to a normal. It's good for (the kids') mental health."
She conceded it is good for her own mental health also, as she said she commonly takes water aerobics classes at the pool after work.
Helena's Aquatics and Recreation Program Manager Kait Perrodin said even with a schedule of lessons drastically expanded from last season, all reservation slots are just about filled up.
Perrodin said that with the Helena Family YMCA not offering swim lessons this season, the demand has been high.
She credited the ability to offer lessons to the quality of lifeguards the facility has been able to attract over the years.
"We have a lot of returning staff, 25 from last year, including managers," Perrodin said during an interview Friday while the lifeguards ran training scenarios. "We're fortunate to have that bunch of returners."
Ponozzo said although the COVID-19 restrictions from the previous season have been lifted, pool staff intends to continue its stricter sanitation regimen and encourage social distancing in areas such as the locker rooms and concessions area.
Perrodin said that thanks to those best practices put in place, the pool did not have to close down one day last season.
Helena resident Brian D'Ambrosio said he and his kids try to make it to the pool every year for opening day.
"It's exciting. It's something equivalent to a ritual," D'Ambrosio said. "It's an important place for us, a bonding experience of the summer."
Last Chance Splash Waterpark and Pool, 1203 N. Last Chance Gulch, is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. for lap swim.
The water park, including slides and the lazy river, zero depth pool and splash deck, is open Monday through Friday from 12:15 to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
The 50-meter pool and diving tank are open during the week from 1 to 7 p.m. and on the weekends from 1 to 5 p.m.
More information can be found at the pool's website, www.lastchancesplash.com/home.