Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts is a private, family-owned company that operates waterparks, hotels, and associated tourist attractions in Texas and Kansas. The company’s flagship park, which opened in New Braunfels, Texas, on August 2, 1979, originated when Bob and Billye Henry bought Camp Landa, a thirteen-acre campground with about thirty screened cabins, a spring-fed pool, and recreational facilities on the Comal River in 1966. Over the next twelve years the Henry family purchased adjacent properties to grow and develop the camp, which they renamed Landa Resort, into a forty-acre riverside resort; they added new lodges, an additional river-fed pool, tennis and basketball courts, a petting zoo, nine-hole golf course, arcade, fiberglass water slides, and a concrete chute that splashed riders directly into the Comal River. Tubing—floating down the river in large rubber inner tubes—has long been a popular way to beat the summer heat in Texas, and in 1979 the Henrys decided to expand the resort’s water recreation business by constructing a family waterpark.
The first element in what they called Schlitterbahn (“slippery road” in German) was a sixty-foot structure modeled on one of the towers of the Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany, and designed to reflect New Braunfels’s German heritage. The tower, designed and built by members of the Henry family, featured four slides and a system to pump water directly from the Comal River. A year later the Henrys added a large spring-fed lagoon and an inner-tube chute. Over the next decade the Henrys added new features until their original forty-acre property was filled with rides, slides, waterways, and buildings. In 1991 they purchased a nearby twenty-five acre plot, known as Camp Warnecke, a longtime New Braunfels resort on the Comal River, on which they built two new sections of the park: Surfenburg, which featured the world’s first continuous surfing wave (the Boogie Bahn), and Blastenhoff, which featured the world’s first uphill water coaster (the Master Blaster). A fourth area of the park, Tubenbach, opened in 2011 and featured the world’s longest waterpark ride (The Falls). Schlitterbahn New Braunfels, which is open from late April until mid-September, has some 2,000 seasonal employees, and during its 2015 season attracted more than 1,000,000 visitors, making it the most popular seasonal waterpark in the United States. The park has been featured on the NBC Today show and on the Travel Channel and in 2017 was the recipient of nineteen consecutive Golden Ticket Awards from Amusement Today. Schlitterbahn’s sister company NBGS International, founded in New Braunfels in 1984, designs and builds rides for waterparks around the world.
A second attraction with a Brazilian beach theme, Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark, opened on South Padre Island in May 2001. It was the first Schlitterbahn park to feature the company’s innovative “Transportainment” river system. The “Transportainment” concept–a portmanteau of transportation and entertainment–conveys guests to each attraction on an extensive interconnected river system, thus eliminating the need to leave the water or stand in line. A 221-room beachfront resort with restaurants, retail shopping, and an indoor waterpark opened at the South Padre Island location in 2013.
The Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, a twenty-six-acre facility with more than thirty attractions, restaurants, and resort-style cabanas, opened in the spring of 2006. The park’s most notable attractions included a one-mile-long river system and Wasserfest, a 70,000-square-foot convertible indoor/outdoor area with heated rides capable of operating year-round. In 2016 Schlitterbahn Galveston Island debuted MASSIV, the world’s tallest uphill water coaster.
In 2005 Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts announced plans to expand its business outside of Texas. These efforts resulted in the construction of Schlitterbahn Kansas City, which opened in 2009. In addition to having its own iteration of the “Transportainment” system, the forty-acre park also featured the world’s longest tidal wave river. In 2014 the park opened its signature attraction, a 168-foot-tall slide named Verrückt (verrückt means “crazy” or “insane” in German). The ride, officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest water slide, was designed to drop a three-person raft from a height exceeding that of Niagara Falls at speeds approaching seventy miles per hour. It operated for only two years and was permanently closed in August 2016 after a rider was fatally injured.
The company’s fifth location, Schlitterbahn Riverpark and Resort Corpus Christi, opened on North Padre Island in 2015. In addition to a ninety-room resort hotel, golf club, and restaurant, Schlitterbahn Corpus Christi features the longest interconnected river system of any Schlitterbahn location. In 2010 the company introduced plans to open a sixth waterpark in Cedar Park, Texas, and announced a possible seventh location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2014. However, efforts to begin construction of both parks were on hold as of May 2017.
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Houston Chronicle, July 18, 2004. Roger Nuhn, ed., The New Braunfels Sesquicentennial Minutes (New Braunfels: Sophienburg Museum and Archives, 1995). Schlitterbahn website (www.schlitterbahn.com), accessed June 21, 2017. Loren Steffy, "Lucrative When Wet," Texas Monthly, April 2015.
Sports and Recreation
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Martin Donell Kohout
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