A well known water park is closing its doors after 85 years because of a living organism, reportedly in the water. The Arkansas Department of Health confirms a girl who swam at Willow Springs last week has been diagnosed with parasitic meningitis.
The owners found out Thursday, they needed to shut down and that the death of a boy in 2010 is connected with this latest illness.
The girl is being hospitalized for the brain eating illness. It is a rare infection but not a rare organism.
“We have thousands of people that love Willow Springs.” David Ratliff started out as an employee here when he was 12 years old.
Ten-years ago, David and wife, Lou Ann decided to use their retirement money to purchase the property that they say has brought joy to families for generations. “It is hard for us to think about the possibility of a child getting sick out here.”
Last week a girl who swam at the park got sick. Test results show it is Naegleria. It is commonly found in warm fresh water like lakes, rivers, springs and soil. It eats bacteria found in sand which is what lies at the bottom of the water park. It enters forcefully through the nose like when going down a slide. The parasite travels to the brain and destroys the tissue.
The Ratliff’s goal used to be to see Willow Springs into its 100th year of service. “Most of all I feel bad for the parents who have been sitting at the hospital.”
“It is exceedingly rare. A sporadic case occurs one in 33-million.” State epidemiologist, Dirk Haselow says two cases in one location is like lightning striking the same spot twice. But says compared to lakes, this water is shallow and heats up faster. “You can’t get rid of it. So there is really no option to remediate a place that appears to be a hot spot.”
The Ratliff’s were just told the 7 year old boy who died of meningitis three years ago is linked to this current case. “I don’t know what we would have done different had we had more information. I think we would have done something different. I don’t know if it would have changed things.” David Ratliff concludes, “I have lived my dream for the past 10 years. I think it is probably over.”
There is chlorine in the water at Willow Springs but the Arkansas Department of Health says the facility has too much organic matter for it to reach the levels needed.
The Ratliff’s will reopen if it is financially feasible to turn the bottom into concrete – like a pool.