By PAM KASEY ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
For landlocked West Virginians, nothing at home scratches that itch to ride the waves like the wave pool in Fairmont.
"We've had school groups come from as far away as Parkersburg," said Tony Michalski, Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission director.
The swimming pool is as calm as any for parts of the day. But when the horn goes off, waves measuring 6 feet from crest to trough start rolling out — big enough to ride.
"It's a whole different swimming experience," said Marion County Chamber of Commerce President Tina Shaw. Shaw has raised four boys in Fairmont and has been to the wave pool "many, many times."
"All the children get inner tubes and, when the waves start, it truly just brings them in," she said. "There are people that choose to get out of the pool and sit while the waves are on but even if they're not in the water during the waves, they're watching people play and bob up and down — they're still enjoying the experience. It's really just wonderful."
Three chambers under the pool are filled with about 8 feet of water and 4 feet of air, Michalski explained. A 100-horsepower motor spins a big fan that pushes air into the chambers. That pushes the columns of water down and into the pool, driving the waves. A computer can change the patterns of the waves by controlling the movement of the air and doors on the chambers.
Kids love it.
"If it's 90 degrees outside, we'll be packed," Michalski said. That includes families, day camps and other groups. And MCPARC and other organizations team up to provide free transportation and discounted entry for the Marion County Boys and Girls Club. "Typically on a nice summer day, we'll have upwards of 300, even 400 people out there."
Athletic clubs, churches and other groups rent the pool in the evenings for private parties too, he said.
This year, MCPARC also will show movies on an inflatable screen.
The original company that put the pool equipment in 35 years ago is no longer in business, Michalski said, and the Fairmont pool has outlasted a second company as well — but maintenance must go on.
"There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of problems that can happen," he said.
"We've done so much ourselves as far as all the wave equipment goes," he said. "We updated the waves last year to make them bigger by putting a new control panel in to control the timing on the doors. We had an electrician on staff who's very good and also worked with local electricians, and we found the parts we needed through the Internet. We have extras of all the parts. It's definitely the way to go — it saves money in the long run."
Marion County's wave pool was the only one in the state when it opened in 1978, according to Michalski. One has opened since in Hurricane.
The pool is located in the 32-acre East Marion Recreation Complex just off the new Fairmont Exit 136 from Interstate 79. The complex includes facilities for tennis, basketball, softball, horseshoes, hiking, jogging, picnicking, mini-golf and other activities.
Shaw said it's part of a recreation package that helps make the county an attractive place for prospective employers.
"From an economic development standpoint, we package a picnic experience, a tennis experience, a playground experience, the miniature golf course — and the highlight of the whole thing is the wave pool," Shaw said. "We sometimes have to explain it because it's so unusual. But I think it's one of the best things Marion County has to offer."
The wave pool is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information, call MCPARC at 304-363-7037.