DENTON, TX — A summertime tradition is about to make its triumphant return to a lot of Texas communities, a tradition sorely missed by many last summer: the waterpark.

At the Water Works Park in North Denton, City Aquatics Supervisor Monica Martin is overseeing the final preparations for the season. This month the park will open for the first time since the summer of 2019. The park was completely closed all last year due to safety precautions during the depths of the pandemic.

“Ya know, it’s like a race, here we go,” said Martin as staff polished the features in the park’s splash pad and unboxed new reclining chairs on the pool deck. “We’re ready — we’re excited.”

A lot of waterparks in the state and across the country shuttered last year. Some did open up, but most with limited capacities, strict social distancing and mask requirements throughout – so not exactly the ideal setup for the carefree parks.

Now, with a lot of restrictions lifted, those parks will reopen in the coming weeks, just like Martin’s Denton park.

However, Martin says a waterpark isn’t really the type of operation you just throw open the gates to after an entire year closed.

“It’s a process to rebuild. The pandemic did a lot of damage,” she said.

Her team has been working to replace and repair park fixtures that were damaged over the last year by storms, the Texas heat, and even by nature creeping in when everyone else was quarantined at home. Martin said they especially had to work to undo damage from the winter storm this February.

“Everything from the landscaping to the groundskeeping,” said Martin.

The bigger hurdle for Martin, and for the entire rebuilding aquatics industry, though, may be staffing. Martin says it’s not a matter of pay or anything like that, but of certification that has her scrambling to fill a lot of positions.

According to Lifeguard Training HQ, lifeguards in the state of Texas are required to undergo testing and certification every two years including CPR, first aid and skills trainings.

So do the math: if most of the lifeguards out there didn’t work at all in 2020, that leaves the industry with a lot of potential gaps going into this rebuilding year.

“Lifeguards in general, most of them who’d gotten certified in 2019, they’re expired now and they’ve moved on to other jobs and other opportunities so this is a rebuilding year for many agencies and organizations across North Texas,” said Martin.

Despite work that remains, Martin said they’ll be ready for the potentially large and stir-crazy crowds this summer.

“We’re getting there, slowly but surely. [It has] taken a little time to get us back where we need to be, but we’ll be there,” said Tom Klimko, head groundskeeper at the Denton park.

Martin says the pandemic is still a factor, even if the regulations and rules have relaxed statewide. She says City of Denton parks will continue to encourage distancing and mask use at facilities and will adjust as the CDC guidance continues to change.

The Denton Water Works Park opens for a sneak peek on May 22 with their full season starting May 29.