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Swan Boats, Illuminated Night Rides Coming to Wash Park This Summer

Swan boats are coming to Washington Park’s Smith Lake for the first time this year.

Wheel Fun Rentals, which operates recreational rentals in City Park and Washington Park, has purchased a fleet of swan boats for Wash Park and added LED lights to boats at both parks, so residents can now paddle in fabricated swans under the stars and during the day.

“It is such a popular activity,” says Eric Heiserman, Wheel Fun’s manager of operations in Colorado. “It’s really big with families, couples, friends — pretty much any sort of situation.”

Wheel Fun started out renting bikes for guided tours in Washington and City parks, and still offers them along with tricycles and pedal car bikes that can fit two to six people. At Wash Park, the company also rents out kayaks.

But Heiserman says the swan boats at City Park have been the company’s most popular rental for several years. Oftentimes there’s a wait list on warm summer nights for the approximately fifteen swan boats, which cost just $12 per person per hour (and $7 for children). Sunset rides are the most popular, he says, though the boats enjoy users for much of the day.

Wheel Fun has been open intermittently so far this spring, and Heiserman says the swan boats have already gotten plenty of interest at Wash Park. He personally strung up the LED lights on the boats last week and expects that demand will rise when night rides open on May 10.

He says that although the two parks are just a few miles apart, there’s a surprising lack of overlap between those who regularly go to each.

“A lot of people go to the park that’s closest to their house, wherever they walk their dog or wherever they want to take their kids or go for a bike ride,” Heiserman says. “They don’t seem to adventure to some of our other urban parks that we’ve got around here, so I’m happy that we can bring it to them.”

Wheel Fun is a national company that originated in California in the late 1980s, but its Denver outposts have been locally operated since 2004, when the Wash Park location opened; it expanded to City Park a few years later with swan boat rides on Ferril Lake.

“You’ve got a lot of choices, COVID is over, things are opened back up, you can do a whole bunch of stuff,” says Heiserman, who joined Wheel Fun in 2022. “You could probably go down to the reservoir and rent a stand-up paddleboard, but everybody’s got stand-up paddleboards. No one else has illuminated swans.”

The contract Wheel Fun has with Denver Parks & Recreation is also unique. The parks department partners with other vendors, like Denver Urban Gardens and Friends of Levitt (the operator of Levitt Pavilion in Ruby Hill Park), but Wheel Fun is the only company it could identify that pays a percentage of revenue to the city rather than paying rent.

Because so much of the operation depends on weather — it shuts down each year from November until around mid-March — the city collects a portion of Wheel Fun’s revenue to avoid charging for rental space when business isn’t possible.

Wheel Fun is currently open from 10 a.m. until sunset on weekends and holidays, but on May 10 it will expand to include the hours after sunset with illuminated night rides. Starting May 24, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, Wheel Fun will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until after sunset. Hours ramp down again on September 2, but the services will stay open in some capacity until October 28.

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