Visit the Willow Springs Photo Page to see some pictures of Willow Springs from the past.
Willow Springs Water Park is currently owned by David and Lou Ann Ratliff. Willow Springs is the oldest water park in Little Rock and has an interesting history.
Willow Springs first opened for swimming in 1928. The park was used mainly by the servicemen from Camp Robinson which had just recently opened. At this time the lake and surrounding area were owned by the Jacobs family.
In 1953, Jimmy Wirtz bought the swimming pool and the skating rink portion of the property. Mr. Wirtz also owned the original Brownings Mexican Café, El Patio. Mr. Wirtz hired Mr. Dick Mills to manage the skating rink and the swimming pool. After the summer of 1959, Mr. Wirtz sold Willow Springs to Mr. Mills and his wife Jo Mills. The Ratliff family moved from downtown Little Rock to a new home across from Willow Springs in 1958.
Mr. Mills began making immediate changes to the park. In 1960 the Toboggan ride was put into operation. In the mid 1960s the docks were changed from wood to concrete. As a teenager, David helped Mr. Mills with this and other construction projects around the park. The present bathhouse area was constructed in 1966.
The decade of the 1980s were years involving management transition. The daily operation of the park was gradually turned over to the Mills son, Marty Mills.
The water slide was opened in 1982. During the mid 1980s, David, along with his family and some close friends removed the skating rink, and the picnic area was developed. During the next few years there were some improvements made to the concession area and picnic areas.
Four picnic pavilions were added at the south end of the park in 2000. This addition made group outings more appealing.
The toboggan was removed in 2002 and the Kiddy Pool area was expanded.
Mr. David took over management of Willow Springs in 2004. Mr. David grew up across the street from Willow Springs and started working at the park in 1962 when he was twelve years of age. David continued to work at the park into his twenties, and assisted with the installation of the waterside and the automatic chlorination system. Being a close friend of the Mills family, David had always dreamed of owning the park, but knew that Marty Mills would be the first choice as next owner.
Over the years, David built a career with Lennox Industries as a business coach. David was responsible for training in heating, air-conditioning, and plumbing throughout the United States and Canada. This required numerous days away from home. During this time, Marty Mills was working at the pool in the summer and as a teacher with Little Rock School District during the school year. This was a very demanding schedule for both David and Marty. The winter of 2003 became a time of decision for both Marty and David. Marty was tiring of his hectic schedule and David wanted a job that would allow him more time at home to spend time with his grandchildren. After much consideration, Marty chose to concentrate on his work with the Little Rock schools and David took over Willow Springs.
David married Lou Ann Ratliff in 2005. Lou Ann had worked as a nurse for 25 years. They have worked together to make many improvements to the park. There is a new stage pavilion for occasional live entertainment. The theatre was built for the entertainment of large groups, such as churches and corporations, as well as for entertainment for the swimmers. It is available for rental, allowing groups some privacy from the rest of the pools area for award ceremonies, sermons, or special meetings. The amphitheatre area also includes basketball, soccer, and volleyball areas. The stage pavilion is offered for use by church groups without a deposit fee.
In addition, David added a play ground and party deck for children ages 8 and under. This area is close to the Kiddy Pool, so parents can relax knowing that access to the main pool area is limited. David also added the launch pod and two water trampolines. The old arcade area, which was over the bathrooms and showers, was converted to the Upper Deck Café. This air-conditioned restaurant provides a ready view of the pool.
Recent changes to the park include a new water filter, expanded chlorination system, additional pavilions and a new entry area. We are making changes and improvements every year to increase the quality of your visit to Willow Springs
David and Lou Ann Ratliff