The Red Oaks Waterpark wasn’t open last summer, due to COVID, but the popular facility recently reopened.

The Red Oaks Waterpark wasn’t open last summer, due to COVID, but the popular facility recently reopened.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Red Oaks Waterpark reopens with splash pad, online ticket sales

But staffing challenges remain in the Oakland County Parks

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 12, 2021


MADISON HEIGHTS — After staying closed last summer due to the pandemic, the Red Oaks Waterpark has reopened, with a new splash pad, to boot — a vivid example of times beginning to return to normal.

The waterpark, located at 1455 E. 13 Mile Road in Madison Heights, reopened on June 23.  The biggest addition is the new children’s splash pad that replaces a previous attraction built in 2003 that had reached the end of its operational life.

The new splash pad offers 52 interactive water features, including a water play climber with slides and a dumping bucket. There is also a new shade structure next to the zero-depth play area, which measures 160 feet by 105 feet. Topping it off is a new family restroom added nearby.

The project cost more than $1.9 million for the splash pad and sanitary lift station, and nearly $290,000 for the family restroom facility. The pad was built by C.E. Gleeson Constructors in Troy.

“The new splash pad at Red Oaks is very exciting,” said Matt Pardy, the Red Oaks County Park supervisor, in an email. “It’s a modern splash pad that is a lot of fun for families. The old children’s water playground had reached the end of its structural lifecycle and needed to be replaced. This gave us a great opportunity to install a great new feature.”

The other change for the new season is online ticket sales, which began June 21. The sales end at 2 p.m. for the day of the visit, with tickets available seven days prior to the intended visit date. Tickets aren’t required for children ages 0-1. Ages are verified at the gate. More information is available at

Capacity for the park is 1,000 visitors daily. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, from now through late August.

The opening would’ve been earlier, during the first week of June, if not for the difficulty of finding enough lifeguards. A lifeguard shortage is the reason Waterford Oaks Waterpark, the other waterpark run by Oakland County Parks and Recreation (OCPR), remains closed this year.

“We have been trying for the last three to four months — if not more, really — to recruit staff, but we just could not get enough to make it happen,” Pardy said. “There has been a national lifeguard shortage for several years now, but coming out of the pandemic, it’s worse than ever. Not just with lifeguards, but with all positions.

“There seems to be very little interest from people wanting to work in the leisure and hospitality industry right now,” he continued. “All of our parks are struggling to find enough staff for this summer, and it’s not just us. Many similar organizations are having the same challenges. I can’t say that I know why, other than it can be a challenging environment to work in, and maybe a lot of people are not comfortable working directly with the public.”  

The limited staffing at Red Oaks Waterpark this summer means the River Ride will be closed. Concessions are also closed for the time being, although prepackaged drinks and snacks will still be available for purchase. The delayed opening also led to waterpark season passes and group rates not being offered this year, and picnic shelters are not available for rent.

Full staffing at Red Oaks Waterpark would require around 120 employees, of which 60 serve as lifeguards. Pardy said that Red Oaks has about half that for this summer so far.

Waterford, meanwhile, needs about 50 staff, of which 30 are lifeguards, “but we were not able to get anywhere close to that,” Pardy said.  

He added that lifeguard applicants receive their training free of charge, with the first program taking about 24 hours. They then undergo park-specific orientations, onsite training and shadowing. Each new lifeguard receives about 50 hours of training prior to supervising a pool by themselves.

While certain offerings are on hold, officials said they’re eager to see people back in the water.

“We’re thrilled to open (at Red Oaks Waterpark),” said Susan Wells, the OCPR’s interim executive officer, in a statement. “We frequently hear waterpark visits are a staple of summer plans. The fact we have a new water feature to debut adds more excitement.”

Pardy agreed.

“I’m excited to see that we are starting to be able to return to somewhat of a normal life,” Pardy said. “It was very sad for all of us to not be able to open the waterpark last summer.”

For more information, call the Red Oaks Waterpark at (248) 858-0918.