CHELAN — When Jerry Isenhart, the former mayor of Chelan and owner of KOZI Radio, saw a GoFundMe page for Slidewaters being shared on social media, he felt compelled to chip in.
“Since the Bordner family arrived in Chelan, they have been extremely generous to the community,” Isenhart, who donated $200, said Monday. “I’ve taken more than one church group up there and they’ve hosted us for free as gifts to the community. They are a good-hearted and good-spirited company.
Slidewaters, which had been operating the past 30 days at 50% capacity while its lawsuit challenging the legality of Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic was tied up in court, lost its legal battle last Tuesday when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice dismissed the case.
The water park was then hit with a $9,639 fine Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Industries as a punishment for opening up and ordered to shut down — or face additional penalties.
On Friday, Burke and Robert Bordner issued a press release stating they were laying off 150 employees and suspending their season Monday. Hours later, Chelan resident Kristina Thomason Buche organized a GoFundMe page for the popular water park.
“I am just a local mom who supports a business that my family loves,” Buche told the World Monday afternoon. “I’ve been going to Slidewaters since I was a kid and love that I get to share the experience with my kids. I appreciate (the Bordners) trying to give families a sense of normalcy during this very unfortunate time.”
The campaign caught fire over the weekend and by midday on Monday, had generated over $35,000 from more than 360 donors. One of those was Chelan County Commissioner Doug England, who donated $100 Sunday evening.
“I’m blown away at how much support the fundraiser has received,” Buche said. “I’ve been messaged by many to keep increasing the goal — originally at $10,000 but now set at $40,000 — and I’ve been very open to suggestions on running the fundraiser. The goal has increased as the funds were coming in and exceeding goals. When the momentum slows down, the goal will as well.”
Some in the community have criticized the fundraiser, pointing out that other small businesses that followed Gov. Inslee’s guidelines could use some financial assistance.
But Buche said the fundraiser isn’t a political move, instead, calling it a show of support for a local family and business and suggested that others could do the same.
“I won’t make this about Inslee,” Buche said. “This wasn’t an anti-COVID fundraiser. There’s always going to be people who don’t agree and that’s OK. I empathize with both sides. But I chose a business I felt passionate about and the community clearly supported as well. If people are so worried about other community aspects and businesses then nothing should stop them from also fundraising for what they are passionate about.”
When asked what prompted his donation, England said his kids had worked for the park the past couple of years, and that his family has been frequent patrons.
“They bent over backward to try and follow a business model that keeps everyone safe and frankly, it’s in advance of what the state is doing at their parks,” England said in-between meetings Monday. “We felt they needed our support.”
While Isenhart wouldn’t go as far as to say he thought Slidewaters was being unfairly singled out by Inslee or L&I, he did note some inconsistencies in terms of the parks being opened without regulations or restrictions.
Since the calendar hit July, Lake Chelan has been flooded with tourists, beachgoers and boaters looking to enjoy the 90-plus degree heat. Both Don Morse Park and Lakeside have been jam-packed over the past couple of weekends, and this past Sunday, cars were stacked along the shoulder of Highway 97A.
Buche wondered how both parks and the city could get so overcrowded without any safety guidelines.
“Why can hotel pools and vacation rentals still operate?” Buche marveled. “What makes that OK and not OK for Slidewaters?”