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WHITING — Attendance figures are in for the first year of the WhoaZone experience at Whihala Beach, and Mayor Joe Stahura said they are much higher than he anticipated.

"When you do almost 21,000, that certainly was a pleasant surprise," Stahura said.

The exact number of patrons according to the city's operational report was 20,662 from the opening date of June 24 through the end date of Sept. 4.

A total of 19,702 patrons tried out the Wibit floating water park and 960 participated in paddle sports.

Most of the patrons (14,638) were from Illinois, a fact that did not surprise Stahura.

"We knew we'd bring people here from outside Whiting," he said. "We didn't know how far they would travel. I think almost 13 percent traveled 90 miles or more."

Stahura said the goal was to bring in outsiders who would spend time in the city's business district and there were about a dozen days when there were not enough parking spaces to accommodate visitors.

He said a boat parking lot will be re-striped to allow more spaces for cars and the city will partner with Whiting City Schools to use its football field parking.

The WhoaZone provided summer employment for a total of 29 regional high school and college-aged workers.

Stahura said the WhoaZone operator's plan is to expand the attraction next year to accommodate more people and there might also be extended hours of operation.

A traffic count conducted indicated a large number of overall visitors to Whiting Lakefront Park during the summer season, the mayor added. 

"It looks like we were very close to a half million people that came to the park from Memorial Day through Labor Day," he said.