Community members came together on Saturday to celebrate the end of the library’s summer reading program and to welcome a huge new addition to Wrangell’s waterways. KSTK’s Anne Hillman joined the fun.

Kids at the library pool party test out the new inflatable, Nessy.

About 100 kids turned out on Saturday to welcome Nessy, the pool’s newest inflatable water ride. Named after the Loch Ness Monster, she looks like a giant, bumpy dinosaur or a wingless dragon with a long green neck rising into the air and an obstacle course on her back for the kids to slide over.

“It’s really fun and if you make it to the end, you just dive off of it,” explained 10-year-old Sean Rooney. He swam non-stop for 120 laps in three hours and raised $2,250 to buy Nessy.

“I really wanted the new inflatable dragon,” he said. “So everybody could play on it.”

At her unveiling, she garnered rave reviews. “She’s awesome!” exclaimed fourth-grader Elizabeth Armstrong. “I fell off going over the bumps.” She said Nessy’s back wasn’t so easy to navigate while wet.

The city’s parks and recreation department raised about $6,000 to buy Nessy and then import her from New Zealand. Recreation coordinator Victoria Martin said that for giant pool inflatables to be safe, they have to meet certain size requirements.

“What we found is that the companies that make these in the States make really big ones for the big water parks. And they’d simply fill the pool up. So we have to find one that works for us and fits in the pool, and we’re able to make their specs” for safety reasons.

Nessy replaces Flipper, who retired because of some internal problems. “They get a lot of use,” Martin said of the giant stitched animal. “There’s internal baffling, so that the air goes in and goes through the baffles and actually keeps them inflated. We can stitch the outside, but we have no way of repairing the inside and after a while, that stitching just wears out.”

The newest inflatable premiered at the annual Library Reading Program pool party. Each summer kids have two months to read as many books as they can. After each book, they take a short computerized test to see if they understood what they read. It’s the same nationally distributed program they use at school, so they’re used to the process. If they pass the test then they earn points. Each point turns into a raffle ticket and a chance to enter any of the 138 prize drawings. Community members and businesses donated $8,500 worth of prizes including cash, cameras, basketballs, and even a cupcake maker.

The prize incentives and the pool party inspired students who are entering kindergarten all the way up to 9th grade to read new books. Raquel Mingming read the Hunger Game series. “I really liked the Hunger Games books. They have a lot of action in them which I really like. I like lots of action and then the romance part.”

The love of reading inspired by the program doesn’t just stop once the prizes are given out. Twenty-year-old Devyn Moody participated when she was younger. “I definitely read more now, probably because of programs like this,” she said.

So, does head librarian Kay Jabusch have plans and incentives to keep adults reading, too? “We’ve had a lot of adults ask us that,” she replied, laughing. “I said, I’ve kind of used up all our favors for the kids and people donating prizes. But you never know. We may try something like that. It would be fun.”

But for now, at least adults can still read on their own and have fun playing with Nessy during family open swims at the pool on Mondays and Fridays.