SACRAMENTO – The fiberglass tubes peek over the tree line, giving flip-flop and bikini-clad visitors their first glimpse of the fun that waits ahead.
Soon, signs lead you off the freeway and down the entrance to Cal Expo – home to the California State Fair in July.
On a breezy Tuesday morning, a sparse crowd streams from the parking lot and through the Expo’s main gates.
A mother totes book, bag and armful of towels up the main walkway, while her kids turn cartwheels ahead of her.
Looking for fun this summer?
Just add water.
Cal Expo has many attractions, from its racetrack to its arena to the Expo Center. But for those looking for relief from the heat and a hair-raising thrill, the venue near downtown Sacramento is home to one of Northern California’s premier water parks.
While Oakwood Lake Resort and the Manteca Waterslides – The 209’s now-defunct water park – have faded into legend, Raging Waters at Cal Expo continues to re-invent its charm each summer.
The park is one of two in the Greater Sacramento area, joining Roseville’s Golfland Sunsplash. There are seven major water parks in Northern California, according to californiaforvisitors.com, a travel site, including Raging Waters San Jose and Waterworld California (Concord).
Raging Waters review
Raging Waters at Cal Expo offers its guest 25 attractions, most of which challenge the threshold of gravity and speed.
Guests plunge into the Honolulu Half Pipe from 40 feet above, white-knuckling the hand grips on single-rider tubes.
Dragon’s Den sends its challengers whipping around a CannonBowl before swallowing them up for one final plunge.
The Great White sinks its teeth into the daring at the first hair-pin turn, and the floor literally disappears beneath you in a flash on Splashdown.
There’s Cliffhanger, twin 60-foot drops, and blacked-out, enclosed speed tubes such as Hurricane and others at Shark Attack Kingdom.
The rides sprout from the pools below – Breaker Beach and Calypso Cooler, a lazy river ride – creating an adventure land for visitors far and wide.
For those that live in the 209, Raging Waters is worth the investment of drive time and money.
The park lives up to its slogan: Pay for a day, stay for the summer. A general admission fare ($30.99 for those 48 inches or taller) comes with a Sacramento-only season pass and free admission to the state fair from July 12-28.
So how does Raging Waters rate? Here’s a quick review from Tuesday’s all-day visit:
• The rides and attractions are – as one 7-year-old scored them on Tuesday – a “can-we-go-again” fantastic, with enough diversity to keep park-goers of all ages entertained for hours. Favorites: Dragon’s Den and Great White. Scariest: Honolulu Half Pipe, especially when you inadvertently drop in backwards.
• The service, from the lifeguards to the security guards to the food and beverage employees, is what you might expect from a staff mostly in their teens, many of whom are probably in their first jobs. While some were eager to assist in any way possible, others seemed distracted or put off by a question.
• The drive (from Manteca) is reasonable, but if you stay until the park closes in the early evening brace yourself for bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeways out of town.
• The food is overpriced and the stadium-style menu disappointing. On a slow day Tuesday, when management was looking to send staff home, Raging Waters’ food and beverage service was lucky not to have a ragin’ riot on its hands. Rule No. 1 when dealing with a hungry pint-sized crowd: Keep plenty of chicken strips in stock.
Will a water park
return to The 209?
That said Raging Waters’ most endearing quality is the attractions – and the memories they conjure up for those traveling from The 209.
For 30 years, Oakwood Lake Resort and the Manteca Waterslides served as the Central Valley’s pre-eminent water park, welcoming 175,000 visitors every summer.
Then, like a mirage in the distance, it vanished.
Budge Brown’s creation with its concrete slides eventually were deemed archaic by industry standards, and the park was eventually sunk by rising workmen’s compensation insurance, an outdated facility and the inability to find a buyer who wanted to take on a fixer-upper.
The park was torn down and the land bulldozed. It’s now home to Oakwood Shores, a slow-moving housing development.
Oakwood Lake Resort and the Manteca Waterslides are nothing more than a memory now. Or are they more than legend? Could they be a blueprint – a foundation – for a water park’s return to this part of the valley?
Manteca city leaders are encouraged, and The 209 might not have to wait long for its next foray into major water parks. The City of Manteca has fielded interest from multiple water park developers eager to capitalize on the global following Manteca Waterslides created.
To this day, nearly a decade after it locked its gates for good, the Manteca City Council still takes calls about the waterslides’ hours of operation.
McWhinney Real Estate Services, a development firm based in Colorado, is the latest to target land west of Big League Dreams and Costco. McWhinney would like to build a 400-room Great Wolf Lodge, which would also include a year-round, 70,000-square-foot indoor water park.
After the economic feasibility studies are done to determine the viability of the nuts and bolts of the process an environmental impact study is the next step in the process, which means ground-breaking – if it takes place at all – is still years away.
Until then, head north to Raging Waters at Cal Expo and look for the fiberglass tubes through the tree tops.
By JAMES BURNS
209 staff reporter