Chained to a Water Slide: One Man's Last-Ditch Effort to Save His N.H. Waterpark
There's a long history of people chaining themselves to trees or posts or buildings - or to each other - to protest some injustice or simply to get their voices heard. But here in New Hampshire we may have a first. Last week, Kevin Dumont, the owner of Liquid Planet Water Park in Candia, climbed to the top of his water slide tower and chained himself to the rail. His goal? To save the park from a planned December 2nd auction. NHPR's Sean Hurley spent the night with Dumont at the top of the tower and sends us this story.
The main attraction at Liquid Planet stands at the center of the five acre water park. Two enormous slides, one red, one green, coil downward from a 30 foot tall tower.
A green metal staircase rises three stories to the top of the tower where 46 year old Kevin Dumont, the park's founder, stands with his leg chained to a rail. "Originally," Dumont says, "it was just supposed to be a metaphor - you know chain myself to the thing. It wasn't supposed to be literal. And everybody wanted to see the chain and I said 'Oh, I'm gonna have to get a real chain now.' I can't just be metaphorical about this - I gotta actually show them a chain."
The chain is 12 feet long and came from his garage. A friend delivered it shortly after the metaphor died. Dumont shows me how it works. "One end locks into the rail and one locks to my foot. I drag it around and I sound like the Ghost of Christmas present from A Christmas Carol."
Like that ghost, Dumont gives me a tour of his present, showing me around the 12 by 12 platform where he'll be living until December 2nd. There's a food and water table with lots of bread and peanut butter. A two man tent is tucked along one wall equipped with a small heater. "So the only slight inconvenience might be if you have to go to the bathroom," he says. "Other than that we got most of the creature comforts here."
By creature comforts Dumont means a Mr. Coffee and a plastic cup disguised as a rest room. He tells me he's been up here three days now. Day one was quiet and the first thing he did when he got settled was write an email to friends that began "I have two things to tell you. First, I'm not crazy. However I have chained myself to the top of the slide tower and I'm not coming down until I can find a partner to work with us so we don't lose it at the auction."
That evening, he says, friends and family began to call. "And my closest friends called me up and go 'What are you doing?' And my sister was like 'What are you doing?' But by the time I woke up at 5 with the phone ringing, it had already sort of gone viral."
Calls from the BBC, from the Canadian Broadcast Company - confusing interviews with morning radio show DJ's across the country who only knew part of the story.
Hundreds of curious strangers texted and called, mostly asking questions, but some offering advice. Like this one, from a woman in Brooklyn, New York, who told Dumont he needed to get on every social network. "If you really want to be heard," the caller says, "if you really want to save your business, get on everything. But you, you not out there! I'm not even seeing you Instagram, nobody's hearing you bro!"
Dumont admits he's not as out there as he could be. He can't remember his Twitter password and isn't sure exactly what Instagram is - but he has been posting updates on the Liquid Planet Facebook page. And he is trying to raise money on the gofundme website, where at the time of this writing he's reached $1,600 dollars of a proposed million dollar goal. "But at the same time this isn't really what we're trying to do," Dumont clarifies. "We're not really trying to raise $1 million from, you know, a hundred thousand people. We're trying to find the one person that will come in with us."
And the latter plan seems to be working. Dumont says serious investors have been calling. "I had a guy today who owns two water parks down south and he said 'What would you take just to sell the park?' I've had a guy who owns one of the biggest trucking companies in Michigan call me - he's actually flying in next week to meet with me because he's very serious."
The questions they have are the same ones everyone else has. "Are you really chained up there? How do you go to the bathroom? And then the people that are a little more serious they then begin to ask questions like how did it happen and where did things go wrong and what's your game plan, what are you going to do if you can't save the park?"
Dumont runs down a brief history of Liquid Planet. "Construction began in 2007," Dumont says, "and then we opened up in 2008 and then the economy crashed. And then it rained almost every day that summer. The next year it was worse. And when I say worse I mean the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they actually said 2008 was like the 7th worse on record and then 2009 was like the 4th. And we were just so far in debt that even though the 3rd and 4th year were pretty good we were just constantly paying back what we had to borrow and by the 8th year the bank was like 'we have to call the note' and we knew we owed them a million 6."
So the park can make money, Dumont says, but it can't be profitable with its current debt load.
This past summer there was a flicker of hope when Whales Tale Water Park considered investing in Liquid Planet. But the deal fell through and then, in August, Dumont's mother died and then late in October, his father died. "So they died within three months of each other," he says. "So I couldn't come in and do the constantly calling and trying to reach people to try to figure out who could partner with us because I was flying all over the country trying to bury my parents."
Down in Florida, arranging for his father's funeral, Dumont realized time was running out. "And so when I was down there in Florida I was like I've got like a month and a half before the auction. And so I was like how am I going to reach - as one person - how am I going to reach enough people fast enough? And so it just kind of popped into my head and I said I'm gonna have to do some kind of publicity stunt. And then I thought wow, I'm gonna go to the top of the slide tower and I'll just chain myself."
He knew he'd be making a fool of himself. He'd be throwing his dirty laundry, his million dollar failure - something he'd carefully hidden from friends and family - high into the air. And then, he'd do whatever possible to light up with as many spotlights as he could gather.
But the alternative, he says, was worse. "So December 2 they actually have a real auction with an auctioneer and a gavel and they'll have it right at the water park and it's gonna be like 'Ok do I hear 500,000, 500,000, do I hear 550?'"
And if that happens, if it sells at auction, Dumont says, "They'll get everything. They'll get my house. They'll get the water park. I'll be homeless. I'll be jobless. I'll have lost my company and I've already lost my parents so it will be the ending of a very very horrible year."
And regardless of the way this horrible year ends, Dumont says being chained to the tower, making a last stand, feels like the best and only thing he has left to do. "If this doesn't work and it goes to auction and I lose everything, I'll still be able to spend the rest of my days saying I tried my best. I was up in that tower every day for a month and I did everything I could and if it didn't work and it wasn't in the cards it wasn't because I just gave up and didn't try. And there is a lot of comfort in that."
Dumont hands me a plastic cup in case I need to use a rest room and we lay down in our sleeping bags in the tent at the top of his tower. "I don't snore," he tells me and rattles his chain and falls asleep and immediately begins to do just that.
The sleep of an exhausted man who's seen both light and darkness at the end of the tunnel, chained to a water park at the end of a horrible year.