EDDYVILLE — Venture River Water Park found itself vulnerable this summer from the procedural changes and safety precautions arising from the global pandemic.
At season’s end on Labor Day weekend, the owner-operator of the lakes area attraction recounted experiences, innovations and other lessons learned from the unique summer of 2020.
“We are definitely down from last year. I would say we’re running at about 50% capacity,” said Andrea York, whose family owns and operates the tourist attraction that originated in 1994. “So, that’s maybe 1,000 to 1,500 (customers) a day. Normally, it would be 2,000 to 4,000.”
Still, many regular customers returned this year, along with a number of new visitors, “looking for something different to do because so many places were closed,” she said. “We’re excited about that, because I think (the new customers) will come back again now.”
Visitors hail from throughout the region, many from Tennessee, southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, and, of course, Kentucky. The greatest number of new customers this year came from Tennessee.
As for employees, York estimates this year the venue employed approximately two-thirds as many workers as it did last year. Whereas the 2019 season had about 250 employees, this year’s number of seasonal workers decreased to 170.
“Some of (our former employees) had already found jobs because we started so late (this summer),” York said. “So, we lost some because they needed a job for the whole summer. Some we’ve lost just because of the COVID situation. They started, but then they got worried about being out in the public, so they quit.”
This season wasn’t much different from usual for guests. York said that’s because as an outdoor venue, activities remained fairly similar to those of years past. “They’re in and out of the water, so they can’t wear a mask,” she noted.
Concerning staff practices, “We have definitely become more conscious of sanitizing things, maybe more frequently. That’s something we’ll probably continue because we’d rather be safe than sorry,” York said. “So, sanitizing tubes, lounge chairs and everything (was more frequent). Other than that, a lot of everything was the same.”
To be clear, “We always try to be very careful with (sanitation). Obviously, we’re a high-traffic venue. Of course, with keeping our water, we have to deal with safety every day anyway for people’s safety and keeping the water levels right. So, I feel like we did take it a step up from that. We’ll probably just continue that (higher level).”
Although the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area has drawn visitors since it opened in 1963, Venture River clearly is an added draw, particularly to Eddyville, Lyon County and locations nearby. Therefore, leaders of governmental, economic and tourism organizations strongly advocated for York’s and Venture River’s determination to open this summer and operate as much as possible.
“(Local leaders) were a big help in trying to get us open,” York said. “We definitely had to fight to get open. The local businesses wanted us open. You know, we’re a big asset in our community. We hire a lot of people and we draw people in to other businesses, too. So, it was very important (to open).”
Perhaps especially vocal in their support were Lake Barkley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Deb Domke, Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White, and Lake Barkley Tourism Executive Director Debbie E. Dodd.
York concluded, “We really do appreciate the community support. The local people, the local businesses have supported us and that means a lot to us, because we want to be here and to be an asset to everybody.”