When families aren't cooling off in the city of Laurel's two public pools, groups of children bounce between the playground and new water feature at Emancipation Park on Eighth Street adjacent to the Laurel Library.
The interactive water feature began operating in mid-June in front of the park's new amphitheater. Within the large space, seven small, blue circular devices form a smaller circle and shoot multiple spurts of water into the air when activated by pushing a button nearby.
Joanne Barr, director of Laurel Department of Parks and Recreation, said her department oversees the fountain's operations, which runs daily from noon to 2 p.m. The system was part of the city's deal during the library's construction to exchange some of the city's park property with the Prince George's County Library System under the agreement that the county would add improvements to Emancipation Park.
Other amenities include a colorful playground, basketball courts, picnic pavilion and walking paths.
"The benefit of having that system is that we are able to capture a good portion of [the water], not as recirculating water for people to run through, but to irrigate our landscaping," Barr said. "When it runs down into the drain, a portion of it goes into the system that helps us water the plants in the park."
The water feature is not an aquatic playground nor splash pad, Barr said, because there is no filtration or recirculation system. When the device is turned on, the water coming from the pipes shoots up through the ground then drains into the irrigation system.
However, that's not to say people can't play in the water, Barr added.
"It was probable that people would want to play in it and they do," she said. "We don't prevent people from doing that as long as they understand that it's not a chlorinated system or considered an aquatic playground, which would then have to meet the standards of operating a swimming pool."
Around mid-day on July 26, Laurel resident Angel Bowling and her 2-year-old daughter, Ripley, were the first that day to visit the water fountain. Bowling said they attended story time at the library the day before and saw others playing in the water.
Although they have a pool in their apartment community, Bowling said they chose to come to the water fountain instead.
"It's so close to the playground, so once you're off the playground and you're all sweaty, you can just jump through this," Bowling said. Ripley giggled as water surprised her with a splash on her face and then dropped to the ground.
"Turn on the water!" said Ripley, her mom pushing the button on top of a short gray pole.
"It's good if kids can't swim because they still get to cool off in the water," Bowling said. "It was a nice, fun-filled afternoon that leads up to a good nap."
Yency Guzman, of Laurel, said she brought her three kids — Keely, 10; Angel, 8; and Adonay, 1 — to the area from their house up the street so they could splash around in the nearly 90-degree weather.
"It's great for kids," Guzman said. "They can come here to play a little bit at the park. This is good and refreshing."
A few feet away, Keely stood over one of the blue circles to soak her hair in the streams of water.
"Instead of being all hot and sweaty, we can get wet," Keely said. "It's double the fun because the playground is right there and we can get wet here."
Barr said the system hasn't been running long enough to establish a billing history to determine overall expenses, but hopes to extend the hours of operation in the future.
"We will determine a permanent schedule when we have more of a history to work with," she said.