May 30—Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo expects to ride the wild wave as a tsunami of guests hits its shores when gates open June 1. After last summer's COVID-19-imposed restrictions, Eric Bertch is looking forward to a return to some level of normalcy.

"We're expecting to see a pretty strong resurgence in attendance. People are ready to get out of the house and socialize again. There's a lot of pent-up demand," said General Manager Eric Bertch.

Lost Island Waterpark is ranked as the second-best water park in the U.S., according to the annual survey in USA Today. The park has been open since 2001 and was set to celebrate its 20th anniversary last summer.

"We were on track to have a record-breaking year. Honestly, we were pumped up. Then the pandemic hit, and we had to dial back our attendance. We wanted to make sure our guests were safe, and that we were still providing the best experience. It was pretty frustrating for us to tell people who had driven four hours to get the park that 'Sorry, we're full' and turn them away," Bertch said. The water park has a daily capacity of 4,500, but the "self-imposed" restricted attendance was set at 1,800 daily visitors.

A new ticket pricing model is now in effect for purchasing tickets online and at the gate, and several special events are planned this summer, including a June 12 Race to Paradise 5K and a staff reunion July 17.

"We're expecting it's going to be a fantastic year. Our target is 150,000 guests," Bertch said.

Experience Waterloo Executive Director Tavis Hall describes people as "absolutely ready" for spring and summer activities. "I feel like we're in a good spot. We're still encouraging folks to get the COVID vaccination to keep our recovery unlocked, and we'll be taking necessary preventative measures so people will be safe," he explained.

The list of activities planned this summer is growing. In addition to Lost Island Waterpark's seasonal opening, Friday Loo's summer concert series has already started its season in Lincoln Park, and My Waterloo Days will "Rock the Park" June 7-13 with a complete schedule of in-person events. RAGBRAI will cycle into downtown Waterloo on July 28, and festivities will include "The Purple Xperience" — a prince Tribute band.

"Irish Fest, pool and dart tournaments, business conferences and meetings — we have a lot of things that were postponed or canceled last year that are going to be happening in 2021. Restaurant owners are ready to get back to full capacity, and many have made improvements to outdoor dining spaces to help people feel safer," Hall said.

"As much as we would like to think that 2020 and COVID didn't happen, we continued to see construction and redevelopment in Waterloo, such as the convention center which will prove to be a sound investment for years to come, and private investments like Lost Island Theme Park."

Waterloo was "incredibly resilient" during the pandemic, Hall said. "People really had the backs of small businesses through their support and participating in local campaigns like Eat Love Waterloo and other initiatives that played a role in keeping doors open."

Kim Manning, manager at Cedar Falls Visitors Center, is equally impressed with how Cedar Falls residents supported local business. The visitors center itself ended its fiscal year down 11% — "which is not nearly as terrible as we were anticipating because we were having such a strong year."

Overall, Manning said, "2020 was a rough year, to be sure, but we're back. There are a lot of special events and weddings that could not take place last year that are coming back and inundating hotel and event spaces, which are booked solid."

The Cedar Falls Visitors Center has seen a definite uptick in traffic stopping at the center, as well as a spike in website visitors. "We can sense a feeling of optimism and pent-up demand, and people are really looking for things to do. Everybody's excited that events are coming back," Manning said.

In addition to the Sturgis Falls Celebration and Cedar Basin Music Festivals, June 25-27, the Live to Nine music series and Movies Under the Moon will return this summer. Activities also are being planned for River Place Plaza, a new downtown location at Second and State streets. The Cedar Valley Beer Trail launched earlier in May, designed to attract cyclists interested in riding the trails and visiting Cedar Falls and Waterloo breweries and tap rooms.

The desire to get outdoors has driven attendance at George Wyth State Park. It was eighth on the list of Iowa's most-visited state parks in 2020 with 502,629 visitors last year. That's a 27% percent increase since 2019, said Park Manager Lori Eberhard. That tracks with a record 16.6 million visitors who frequented Iowa's state parks last year, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"And it's going to be busy again this year. We're seeing numbers up at least 10% higher than this time last year," Eberhard said.

Campgrounds are going to be packed. "We have a few first come-first serve campsites that fill up quickly, and 75% that can be reserved from two to 90 days out. Don't wait until the last minute because there won't be any openings. That's going to be true everywhere this summer — county, state and federal parks."

George Wyth offers paved and soft multi-use trails that are linked to the 100-mile trail network within Waterloo and Cedar Falls, campgrounds and four lakes.

Water levels are low, so boaters should take heed.

"They haven't been this low since 2012. It will take quite a bit to get back to normal. We've got warning signs posted at the boat dock," Eberhard said.

She expects roads, trails and Black Hawk County's only public beach to be busy, too. "We just ask for people to read the signs posted and be courteous to other people and treat the park with respect. There will be a lot of people who are new to camping and boating, so if you see someone struggling, help them out," Eberhard added.

(c)2021 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

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