When Emily Noble and Meta Mandich were growing up, they remember the crazy summers when it seemed as though half of the Twin Cities population descended upon Brainerd for the weekend.

Fast forward 20 years: A bypass diverts many travelers, the community of Baxter continues to grow and expand, and summertime traffic congestion continues to clog the main arteries of town.

The two hard working moms knew they needed to be part of the solution rather than simply complaining about the issues that face the community. They wanted something that could bring people back to Brainerd, encourage foot traffic in the downtown area, inspire neighbors to talk to each other and promote healthy living.

"It was so obvious to us that a splash pad can accomplish the goals we hope to achieve, and that by getting the community involved we are adding to the positive momentum that is currently focused on revitalizing downtown and the riverfront," Noble said of the project she and Mandich have undertaken over the last year. "It's the Brainerd lakes area, yet so many people are skipping Brainerd. Let's bring them back here and get them to spend their money here."

The idea of building a splash pad in Brainerd has been considered for several years, and it looks like those plans will come to fruition in the spring of 2018. After a year of planning and meetings with the Brainerd Parks and Recreation Department, approval has been given to build a 2,000-square-foot splash pad in Gregory Park.

A splash pad is a recreation area for water play that has no standing water. Because of the zero-depth water, it can be operated without lifeguards or attendants. A splash pad can provide endless hours of fun for the entire family, by combining the sensations of different water movements-flowing, misting and jetting. Free play encourages children to create their own experiences. The splash pad will bring together people of all ages and physical capabilities.

"The splash pad will be a fantastic attraction for the young people of Brainerd and the surrounding communities," said Noble, who chairs the Rebuilding Brainerd Community Fundraisers. "We want children to get outside and be active. The splash pad will not have any age restrictions, making it a fun activity for the whole family."

The projected cost of the nearly 2,000-square-foot splash pad, which will feature at least 10 unique water features, shaded seating around the pad and decorative pavers, is $400,000.

The targeted completion date is summer 2018. The RBC Fundraisers volunteer group and the city of Brainerd partnered with the Initiative Foundation to assist with the fundraising efforts. As a regional foundation that serves the 14 counties of central Minnesota, the Initiative Foundation saw the community value of adding a splash pad and has come alongside the group to establish a project fund and provide some consulting on fundraising and volunteer management.

Fundraising efforts have begun in earnest. Contributions of more than $250 will be recognized in various manners at the splash pad. Those interested in contributing to the project can send donations to Initiative Foundation, Brainerd Splash Pad Project, 405 First St. SE, Little Falls, MN 56345. Project updates and an online giving link can be found by visiting www.facebook.com/brainerdsplashpad. The Initiative Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization.

To date, according to the Initiative Foundation's GiveMN.org page, $5,390.00 has been received toward a $400,000 fundraising goal.

Kristi Ackley is a Turn Key specialist with the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls.