Case Study: Serengeti Springs at Hattiesburg Zoo

When the Hattiesburg Convention Commission took over the Hattiesburg Zoo from the city in 2010, the team knew that the zoo had to move away from subsidies and eventually pay for itself. The Commission found ways to save money as well as ways to reach a wider demographic, which led to the zoo operating in the black, for the first time ever, in 2017. 

With Hattiesburg Zoo continuing its conservation activities and outreach programs, it was looking for a meaningful revenue stream to support these initiatives. The team noticed that the existing splash pad was always packed to the brim on hot summer days, so a new water park sounded like a great way to generate new income, extend the length of stay, serve the greater community, as well as grow the city’s tourism economy. 

And so, the idea of Serengeti Springs was born. 

The First of Two Phases for the Water Park 

Part of the Africa section of Hattiesburg Zoo, Serengeti Springs was planned to be built in two phases. In 2024, the $10.5 million phase one opened with a FusionFortress 10 called “TreeTop Trek.” Offering 17,000 square feet (1,580 square meters) of play space, 9 slides, and 280 features, this giant aquatic play structure provides hours of fun for the whole family. Adults, however, need a bit more incentive to stay longer, hence the addition of a 436-foot (133-meter) long, 150,000-gallon (567,000-liter) lazy river connected to a swim-up bar. 

A lazy river at a water park with an aquatic play structure in the background

With these attractions, together with beautiful landscaping and all the amenities that make for a fun day out at a water park, Serengeti Springs is already becoming a popular summer retreat in southern Mississippi.  

“TreeTop Trek” FusionFortress 10 

Because the second phase of the water park is anticipated to follow in a few years, FusionFortress 10—a “pocket water park” in itself—is the perfect attraction to check all the boxes in the first phase.  

Two girls at a water park
One adult and two children slide down a 3-lane multi-lane water slide at a water park

  • Slides for small children
  • Slides for older children and adults
  • Interactive play features
  • Capacity absorption
  • Allows for ample free, unstructured play
  • High entertainment value on a compact footprint

This is the first FusionFortress 10 in the Americas.  

One-of-a-Kind Animal Theming  

As visitors approach this FusionFortress, they are immediately impressed by the intricate theming that immerses them in the Serengeti. In addition to flat panels with pictures of animals, WhiteWater’s in-house artisans crafted life-like animal figures as well as 2D reliefs, bringing both wonderful colours and a vibrant character to the play structure. Guests will come across critters such as a mid-flight parrot, a prowling tiger, a grazing zebra, a curious lemur, a sitting flamingo, a resting jaguar, a pair of gentle giraffes, and more.  

Two kids at an aquatic play structure with a sign that says "habari"

To continue the theme, Swahili words are used in the park, such as “Jambo” and “Habari,” both traditional African greetings. Even the sunshade sails and the polycarbonate guardrails have printed themes that are safari-inspired. The artistic details make the entire play area a very photogenic backdrop, especially for parents taking those precious pictures of their young children. 

Slide and Play for Everyone 

With the many paths and features to explore, it does indeed make guests feel like they are on a “TreeTop Trek,” as the FusionFortress is named. Ample water guns, jets, wheels, ropes, and cones make for refreshing, interactive discoveries. Ground level features and vertical toy elements are used to engage multigenerational families and guests of different mobilities. The biggest screams and squeals, however, come from the enormous splashes of the two tipping buckets: one with a volume of 1,800 liters and the other a whopping 3,000 liters. The splash zones created by these dumping buckets increase the overall size of the play area.  

Nine body slides on the structure provide thrills for all ages. The centerpiece is “Serengeti Swirl,” a Champagne Bowl that has the rider banking high on the side after dropping in from an AquaTube with colorful, mesmerizing AquaLucent rings, at a speed of 18 mph (29 km/h). The other slides—AquaTubes, Pool Siders, and Multi-Lanes—offer ride experiences of varying heights and lengths, with the northern edge of the play area dedicated to toddlers and young children.  

Besides being a great starter water park, WhiteWater’s FusionFortress is also known for absorbing capacity—up to 1,270 people in fact. The pool area where the structure stands is supplemented with 18 large AquaSplash Toys and decked out with Life Floor. These foam rubber safety tiles provide a firm, soft surface that reduces slips and falls and increases comfort for guests’ feet.  

The theming extends to the Life Floor as well. Color is used to create zones in the play area. Zoning is a phenomenal way to encourage movement around an amenity while subtly streamlining pathways that lead to stairs and spray fixtures. Pops of color interspersed throughout also add surface play features that can be used in games such as “the Floor Is Lava” or imaginative play that involves hopping from one color to the next. 

Easter Eggs 

To encourage repeat visits, there are “Easter Eggs” for guests to discover every time they come to Serengeti Springs. For example, on the polycarbonate guardrail panels printed with tall green grass, there are hidden geckos if one looked closely enough. Also, on the Life Floor, there are small footprints as if an animal has stepped onto wet cement and left its mark.  

A Resounding Success for the Beloved Zoo 

With season passes selling out within two weeks of opening, Serengeti Springs has already proven its popularity and demonstrates how a zoo can generate revenue beyond traditional means to fund, among other things, conservation efforts. The water park is expected to bring about $12 million in new spending to Hattiesburg’s economy and will certainly increase the number of annual visitors beyond the current 230,000. The kids don’t know it, but by splashing, sliding, and playing at Serengeti Springs, they are helping to preserve wildlife.  

A family at a water park in front of an aquatic play structure with a tipping bucket splashing water

“Our guests are ecstatic about the park and its addition to the Hattiesburg Zoo. Guests routinely comment on the creative theming that ties the waterpark to the zoo. The work with WhiteWater to integrate the waterpark into our zoo was exceptional and only surpassed by the quality of design and construction. 

“We are very pleased with our relationship with WhiteWater. We focus heavily on quality and WhiteWater delivered.”

– Rick Taylor, Executive Director, Hattiesburg Convention Commission 

Harmony Liau