A pool user shoots out the drop slide at the Gateway Aquatic Center.

The brand-new Gateway Aquatic Center grand opening was Saturday, and had all the hallmarks of a real celebration. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough offered a free barbecue, officials spoke about the project, a ribbon was cut, and 100 “golden ticket” winners orchestrated a synchronized jump for the “Big Splash” to mark the official opening of the approximately 24-million-dollar pool.

Even before the fanfare of the grand opening, the new facility was swamped with people eager to swim, slide, splash and play.

Ketchikan’s new 35,000-square-foot aquatic center is not just a pool. It’s an eight-lane competition pool with one- and three-meter diving boards; it’s a warm-water pool for kids and therapy activities; it’s a vortex pool for aqua-jogging; it’s water slides and a water playground; it’s a rock-climbing wall with a water landing.

It’s also very popular. Less than a week after a quiet opening on July 23, the line of people waiting to get into the afternoon open-swim wound out the door.

Aquatic Supervisor Karen Taylor said that’s been fairly typical so far.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “We’re maxing out our numbers every day. As you can see, there’s lots of kids out here. It’s been just really busy.”

Taylor said the feedback has been positive.

“The kids are really liking it, the adults, the teenagers,” she said. “There’s something for everybody here. We’re still working on a few little things, but overall everybody’s real impressed with it.”

Those few little things include the best places for lifeguards, with several keeping an eye on the slides alone. Taylor said the slides are a popular feature at the pool.

“We have two water slides. We have what we call our drop slide, and that is a slide that goes directly down and drops you out about 5 feet above the water into the water,” she said. “They shoot out really far. It’s really fun. It’s the big highlight of the place. And then we have our twisty slide, that’s about three or four turns down into the water and then you splash down into your pool. We’ve found that’s a little bit faster than we thought it was going to be, so that’s a lot of fun for the kids.”

The slides did appear to be a highlight, with a line of soaking-wet kids shivering and grinning as they waited patiently for their next trip down.

Aleks Bolshakoff said she likes the drop slide best.

“(I like) that you don’t expect it,” she said. “So when you fly out, you don’t expect it coming and it’s just like you’re in the water.”

When asked whether water gets in her nose, she said, “If you plug it, it doesn’t.”

Aleks said she liked the old Mike Smithers Community Pool, but the new one is better.

Caden Hallstrom also was in line, and said the drop slide is his favorite, too, but he likes it all.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” she said. “Especially this other slide, too. It feels like you’re on there forever. The vortex is pretty fun, volleyball and basketball. And the high dive is really fun, too. The rock wall is really fun too. This pool is the best.”

Ketchikan High School’s swim season begins on Aug. 6. Kayhi will show off the community’s new pool to visiting swim teams on Aug. 24, when it hosts a meet with Metlakatla, Petersburg and Thunder Mountain.

The new aquatic center offers a play area for younger children in the warm pool.