WILLISTON, N.D. – More than 2,500 people checked out the new Williston Area Recreation Center on Friday during the first two hours it was open, from families with small children to oilfield workers still in their coveralls.
The crowd that gathered on indoor tennis courts for an opening ceremony got louder and louder as speeches continued, reflecting the community’s eagerness for more recreation opportunities.
“We’ve been needing this for so long,” said Williston resident Crystal Boerschig, a mother of three.
Some in attendance scrambled to try out the golf simulator or get in line for the “flow rider” wave simulator, while others took time to tour each feature of the 236,000-square-foot center.
“Everything is just insane, big,” said Trevor Jeannotte, 24, who tried out a pitching simulator that major league teams have. “We needed something around here to keep everyone entertained.”
Many said they were overwhelmed as they took in the new facility, which is not only big, but features small details that add to the wow factor.
The waterpark has a northwest North Dakota theme, with Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers represented, along with a decorative oil derrick and natural gas flares.
Tiles picturing local fish, such as paddlefish and perch, can be found at the bottom of the pools – two of each to reflect the facility’s nickname, the ARC. Real fossils from northwest North Dakota that are 35 million to 95 million years old will be encased throughout the water park.
The center has a teen lounge with a bubble hockey game that is customized to represent players from the University of North Dakota versus Williston State College. A spinning room features an outdoor mural and high-definition projection screens.
The child care center, where parents can drop their kids off while they work out, has an animal mural that allows kids to color on the wall. It also has two-way mirrors so parents can check on their kids.
Even the locker rooms are noteworthy, with special dryers so swimmers don’t have to bring home a wet suit.
The facility, which is on the campus of Williston State College, has free admission through Monday night and is expected to be packed.
“I haven’t seen this many happy people in this community in five years,” said Larry Grondahl, former Williston Park Board president.
The $76 million facility is the largest park district-owned indoor recreation center in the country.
“What a fantastic place you have,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who spoke during the grand opening. “I’m not sure across the state if people really realize what you’ve done here.”
Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky will swim the ceremonial first lap in the Olympic-sized pool Saturday. The E.J. Hagan, MD Natatorium is named after Ledecky’s grandfather, the late Edward Hagan, whose legacy in Williston includes pushing for the construction of the city’s first indoor pool in 1967.
Ledecky, who won the 800-meter freestyle during the 2012 Summer Olympics, will give autographs at 10:15 a.m. and participate in a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Williston residents voted in November 2011 to approve a 1 percent sales tax, with half being used to pay for a bond for the new center and half to support other park district operations. About $10.4 million has been paid toward the bond through December.
In addition to sales tax revenue, the facility will be supported through membership fees and student fees collected from Williston State College.
For more information, go to www.willistonparks.com or call (701) 577-9272.