The Aquatic Experts

Joe Hunsaker spent his teenage years as a lifeguard, and he went on to be a three-time national championship swimmer, so it was a natural transition when he found himself designing user-friendly natatoriums. The late St. Louis native, who died in March 2012, developed an idea for an aquatic-engineering business back in 1970. “He was operating some St. Louis aquatic facilities and brought James E. Counsilman, a two-time Olympic coach and author of the groundbreaking book The Science of Swimming, in for a clinic,” says Joe’s son, Scot. “They discussed how universities were building indoor swimming pools, but design decisions were being made by design professionals without an understanding of the needs of the sport, and they decided they could make a difference.” The resulting firm, Counsilman-Hunsaker, has been under Scot’s ownership since 1999. It has designed premier professional aquatic venues around the world, including the 1996 Olympic Aquatic Center in Atlanta, but it has also designed more diversionary spaces, including an air-and-space-themed water park in Oregon.


Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark

McMinnville, OR



71,000 square feet

Project Cost
$35 million

Aquatics Cost
$5.8 million

Building Type
Water park


Scot grew up surrounded by his father’s business, and his early induction into aquatic design allowed him to observe firsthand the industry’s evolution over the past few decades. “Aquatic venues used to consist of rectangular pools with rectangular decks surrounded by rectangular barbed-wire fences, but that began to change in the 1980s after the first water park opened in Florida,” Scot says. “Municipalities, which were our major clients at the time, got interested in innovative designs, and that became the mainstay of our business.”

This is how Counsilman-Hunsaker won the bid for the Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark, an indoor park at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Coming up with the concept for the 71,000-square-foot facility required Scot and his team to develop some familiarity with the museum’s subject matter, and by doing so, they were able to create a space that’s as educational as it is fun.

“This was a unique project,” Scot says. “Evergreen Aviation, which operates cargo planes, was financing the project and wanted it designed to teach people about aviation, so the project incorporated a number of iconic aviation elements, including a retired Boeing 747.”

The Boeing 747 sits 62 feet in the air, atop the roof of the water park, and it is used as the launching point of four waterslides. Industry suppliers WhiteWater and Water Odyssey supplied those slides and six others, all of which lead down to a splash pad with a large interactive play structure. “The slides vary in pitch and rate of descent, with the most leisurely being a 550-foot-long yellow slide with translucent sections nicknamed the Sonic Boom, and the fastest being a 350-foot-long green slide nicknamed the Nose Dive, due to its steep descent,” Scot says.

Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark / PHOTO: COURTESY OF COUNSILMAN-HUNSAKER

The water park has a massive 91,000-gallon wave pool, in which huge compressors can generate either a large wave or random smaller waves. Other features in the park include a 37,000-gallon leisure pool, a spa, and many aviation-themed play areas with replicas of historic fighter planes and a space shuttle.

The water park is also connected to a small museum of its own: Life Needs Water, a hands-on educational space for kids, located on the second floor. The museum shows the importance of water in everyday life and includes 20 exhibits, one of which shows water falling as snow on Mount Hood, then melting and flowing to the ocean, and finally evaporating and returning to the mountain. “It demonstrates the three phases of water’s physical state here on earth,” says Jeff Nodorft, studio director at Counsilman-Hunsaker, whose work on the project earned a Power 25 award from Aquatics International, one of the highest honors in the industry. Other exhibits include a wave tank that can be used to demonstrate tides and tsunamis and a visual of Smokey Bear overseeing a helicopter fighting a wildfire.

“It’s an educational place with an emphasis on fun,” says Scot, who was honored by the water park’s recognition with the 2011 Industry Innovation Award for Waterparks by the World Waterpark Association. He acknowledges, however, that the firm couldn’t have done it alone, and he makes sure to note his collaborators, including Hoffman Construction Company and Group Mackenzie. Thanks to all of them, there’s a new place to learn and play in the state of Oregon. ABQ