Trick-or-Treatment Haunts Louisville Water Company

Zombies, ghosts and ghouls take over Louisville’s Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant, and learn about treatment in the process.
Trick-or-Treatment Haunts Louisville Water Company

Rumors have said for years that the Gatehouse at the Crescent Hill Reservoir in Louisville is haunted. Well, at least for one day in October, it was.

Louisville Water Company hosted its first-ever Trick Or Treatment event at the historic Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant on Oct. 28, 2015. The Gatehouse — the plant’s Gothic-inspired centerpiece, with its limestone walls, ornamental details and urns to denote the flow of water — made an ideal setting for a little spooky entertainment.

“The Gatehouse just looks like something out of a horror film,” says Kelley Dearing-Smith, strategic communications and government relations director. “It’s already a popular stop for people in the area, so we thought combining that ambiance with a Halloween-themed event would give us a great platform to talk about the importance of water.”

Historic treatment

The 110-million-gallon Crescent Hill Reservoir was designed in 1879 to allow sediment to settle from drinking water drawn from the Ohio River water. The three-story Gatehouse was modeled after a similar building along the Rhine River in Germany. When it opened, its picturesque grounds quickly became a destination for family picnics, wedding photographs and visitors traveling through Louisville by train.

Louisville Water employed gatekeepers who would open and close large gates to allow visitors to stroll the grounds. Today, the reservoir and Gatehouse remain part of Louisville Water operations. The original valves remain, and the area around the reservoir is still a popular place for walkers. The reservoir and Gatehouse were named Kentucky Historic Marker Sites in 2010.

“The old look of the Gatehouse gives it that air of haunting mystery,” says Dearing-Smith. “The fact that the building remains in operation, and much of the original infrastructure is still in place, is a credit to the designers and the water department staff over the years. It’s definitely turned into a neat destination for many people.”

To get the Gatehouse in character, the Louisville Water staff transformed the building into a family-friendly spooktacular setting, complete with a mad-scientist laboratory, a zombie-guided tour of the reservoir, samples of its award-winning Louisville Pure Tap drinking water, and healthy Monster Mash fruit smoothies.

More than 500 adults and costume-clad children attended. “Frankly, we would have been extremely happy with 100 people, so the event exceeded our expectations by far,” says Dearing-Smith. “Any time we can engage people in learning about water is a win in our book. Fortunately, the opportunity to get inside the Gatehouse is a pretty big drawing card.”

A twist on trick-or-treat

Louisville Water engineers and scientists served as the tour guides for a continuous flow of superheroes, witches and zombies. Plant employees talked about the city’s award-winning water and the plant that recently received a Phase IV Excellence in Water Treatment award from the Partnership for Safe Water.

Tour guides escorted visitors on a behind-the-scenes tour of the plant’s laboratory, control room and filter gallery. Other activities included Frankenstein’s laboratory, complete with slimy, squishy “body parts” to feel; a Wizard of Oz-inspired Good Witch who read children stories; a visit from Tapper, the Louisville Water mascot; and a “bloody” handprint-making station.

“We didn’t market this as a traditional trick-or-treat experience, but the kids all got a nice snack and went home with a little bag of goodies,” says Dearing-Smith. “That didn’t seem to matter, though. The kids loved seeing the mascot and getting the chance to play in the water.”

Marketing for the event proved to be a success as well. Local media outlets were happy to grab on to the feel-good story. “TV stations and newspapers helped us promote it, which was a really great partnership,” says Dearing-Smith. “The idea that it was a different twist on something that happens every Halloween helped us a lot. I think combining kids in costume with a facility that everyone in this area recognizes is a pretty good recipe for a fun story.”

Constant outreach

Dearing-Smith says the Trick Or Treatment event, along with other Louisville Water events, work because the residents are engaged. Regular Walking Wednesday events during summer open the Gatehouse and other areas around the Crescent Hill Reservoir to visits. Partnerships with elementary schools help spread water messages to students, while a large social media footprint and multiple presentations to service groups get the word out to adults.

“We don’t pass up any opportunity to talk about what we do at Louisville Water,” says Dearing-Smith. “The more you are out in the community educating people, the more they will understand how vital what we do actually is. That way, if we need to allocate resources to a project, or make upgrades, they are on board.”

The key to successful outreach, says Dearing-Smith, is finding and capitalizing on something a water department can be known for. For Louisville, that’s the Crescent Hill Reservoir and the high-quality tap water it helps produce.

“You need to look at it like a business,” she says. “First identify your assets, then look at how you fit in the community. Then it’s about finding something you can become known for and really buying into it. If you are truly proud of your product, it shows.”

The day after Trick Or Treatment, the plant was back to normal: the zombies gone, the ghosts back in hiding, and the mad scientists back in the laboratory, making sure every Louisville resident’s water is fresh and clean. They’ll be back on Oct. 26 this year, haunting the Gatehouse halls, promoting clean water, and showing off the dark side of water treatment.


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