A grand opening one year in the making took place at Soaky Mountain Waterpark on Friday, which also included $6,000 in donations to local charities.

The attraction was open in 2020 with reduced hours and limited capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has opened for this season without those restrictions in place.

“We had the 2020 season, but it wasn’t what we thought it would be obviously because of the pandemic and we reduced our capacity and we didn’t open on time. We were three weeks later than we had planned, but that was because of a lot of the stuff going on,” said Joe Eck, chief operating officer of Wilderness Resort and Waterparks.

“This year’s special to the team, to the Wilderness family, the Soaky Mountain family, and our season pass holders because we’re able to kind of do everything we always wanted to do and couldn’t do last year.”

As part of the grand opening event, four members of the company’s leadership took to the water slides to race for charity. Dave Andrews, Soaky Mountain Waterpark general manager was the first one down the slide, racing for Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which received a $3,000 donation for his victory. The other racers included Pete Tennis, Wilderness at the Smokies general manager and two of Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks owners, Tom Lucke and Tim Gantz.

“I think it was unique for us to be able to pull together a grand opening that was also able to give back and give to the charities and tie in a race with our staff,” Eck said. “They’re all about having fun, all the ownership and leadership of the team, so to see them get to race, I don’t think anyone knows how competitive that race actually was internally, but it was good to see Dave win and be able to cut not just one check but a check to everybody.”

The other three charities received $1,000 each. They include the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains, Sevier County Food Ministries and United Way of Sevier County.

“We are so excited. Tourism and the mountains are what brings people in, but then things like this make their vacations even better,” said Tim Chandler, executive director of Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “This will go specifically to the historic preservation, our new foundation, Forever Places, which preserves and protects the historic structures within the park.”

The water park has added new two-person cabanas for the 2021 season and a new Summit Snacks food cart area where guests can purchase nachos, pretzels, popcorn, hot dogs, novelty ice cream, cookies, fresh squeezed lemonade, beer, bottled water, Icees and fountain drinks.

Also added was Yukon Frozen Yogurt in the Candy Cabin building. Adult beverages like margaritas and daiquiris are available at the park this year, too.

“We’re very excited about what we’re seeing for the season,” Eck said. “Our opening weekend was a record crowd for us, so that was awesome to see and a sign of what’s to come for this summer.”

Now that the waterpark is operating at full capacity they expect half-a-million visitors this summer.

Some of the attractions at the waterpark include the Avalaunch, a watercoaster with four flying saucer features that create a drop-and-dive sensation and one wave curved wall; Soaky Surge, a 35,000 square-foot wave pool capable of generating six-foot-high waves; Black Bear Rapids, an adventure river encompassing 24,000 square feet; and The Hive, a bee-themed play-and-spray feature with hands-on activities for younger children.

There is also Boomers Bay, a kid activity pool area with smaller versions of the adult-size towering slides including Lil’ Rattlers and Mini Mayhem; an adventure pool with a water obstacle course; a 3,800 square-foot flat-water cabana pool for relaxing poolside; and Hang 10essee, a double FlowRider surfing simulator.

“We appreciate what you have brought — all of the Wilderness team, the Wilderness Resort and Wilderness Waterparks team — what you have brought to our community, what you have brought to our visitors and our guests, and certainly what you have brought to our economy,” said Brenda McCroskey, Sevierville Chamber of Commerce CEO prior to the waterpark’s ribbon cutting. “It is a huge, huge impact on what is happening here in Sevier County and what is happening in Sevierville and we appreciate you.”

Season admission passes are on sale for $109.99 through June 20, and will increase in price after. Daily admission tickets are $44.99 for anyone above 42 inches and $39.99 for anyone under 42 inches. Children ages three and up require a ticket. Soaky Mountain Waterpark is open through Labor Day and weekends in September, weather permitting. Wilderness at the Smokies guests can purchase a discounted daily admission ticket for $19.99.

For more information visit SoakyMountain