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Employees help expose bacteria outbreak at waterpark | The Big Story
From the Wausonian archives
This post originally appeared in the previous version of The Wausonian on March 25. It is being republished as an archival piece.
It started out as a tip from a journalist in another jurisdiction. An employee of the Grand Lodge and its waterpark said they had seen what the company they worked for was telling the media, and it wasn’t right. In fact, they were flat-out lying, the employee alleged. Should they pass this person on to me?
Of course I agreed to hear the person out. It’s common for employees to want to blast former employers they were unhappy with, and a lot of the time it isn’t newsworthy; but you never know if something more is there. Always best to at least lend an ear.
As we talked, I learned it was far more than just burned employee grievances. The employee was quite reasonable, and understood a business had a right to close if they want. But there were some things that were pretty disturbing he wanted to pass my way. And he was right.
According to the employee, the maintenance workers for the park had ordered a replacement part, of a cost of about $320, which essentially helped maintain the chemical balance in the water. Without it, bacteria and mold could form, the employee told me.
Maintenance workers were perplexed, the employee said, when the part they ordered never arrived. They were more perplexed when they found out the company had canceled the order in the maintenance worker’s name.
Former employees flooded into my email inbox after my talk with this first employee to tell me their stories of the hotel and waterpark. They were leaving in droves because of the way the place was being run. Several of them confirmed the same about the part order. Others mentioned unsafe practices regarding COVID-19 at the park.
County health department confirms
I emailed the county health department and they confirmed: the park had a bacteria problem. The health department tests the water at water-based facilities (waterparks, swimming pools, and such) every two weeks. Two weeks before the closure it had tested positive on a broad-based bacteria test.
They closed the park, shocked the water, and reopened. That usually takes care of it, the county health department official told me. But not this time. In the next test, two weeks later, it failed the bacteria test again. This time the hotel just shut down the park.
(The county health official wanted to make clear that they closed of their own accord and were not advised or ordered by the health department to do so. It was the hotel company’s decision.)
That there was a bacteria infection was not what they were telling the public. Public posts blamed COVID and a lack of business as a result. But numerous employees and ex-employees told me otherwise. In fact, the waterpark and hotel had been busier since Christmas break than it had been in a while, with the hotel often booked full. Others who have visited the waterpark recently have confirmed how packed it was.
I reached out to the Grand Lodge - I couldn’t find a company press contact, even listed on one of its press releases, so I tried the general contact form and expressly stated what I had learned and that I wanted to offer them a chance to comment. I have not heard back.
Did the Grand Lodge and/or its parent company deliberately cancel a needed part that would have prevented the bacteria infection? And will they face some consequence as a result? That remains to be seen.
At the end of the day, it was at least good to tell the truth of what happened and let the public who visited the park in that timeframe know that they might want to head to the doc for a quick checkup.
UPDATE: The Grand Lodge wrote back to confirm the bacteria tests but say the park closed because of unrelated business reasons. This post was also updated to better protect the identity of the anonymous source.
The Big Story is a semi-regular feature of The Wausonian. It takes an in-depth look at a news event, featuring independent investigation. Got a tip, a correction or just general comment? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.