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Who needs Great Wolf when you’ve got water that shoots up from the ground?
Water park
JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin Dylan Campbell checks out the water at the Library Park water feature on Friday afternoon.

To say that my son loves water would be an understatement. 

Considering that the Welsh origins of his name mean “son of the sea,” it’s easy to understand why it’s impossible to get him out of the bathtub, or the swimming pool, or away from the hose in the front-yard when he gets to turn it on and run around. 

So on Friday, when trying to come up with something fun for him to do, my boss suggested taking him down to Library Park because they were going to turn on the water feature – something that I admit I was little bit apprehensive about when it was first brought up. 

Because, let’s face it, Library Park isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think about where you want to take your children to have a good time. That’s actually unfortunate because it has one of the better playgrounds in the city, and the trees give wonderful shade from the scorching summer sun, but it’s also packed full of homeless people who have created a makeshift encampment behind the gazebo that casts off an ominous presence whenever walking through.

But, I figured, we’d be far enough away, and right by a major thoroughfare which is heavily traveled by Manteca Police – we’d be fine.

And we were. 

In the more than an hour that my little man scampered through the watery jungle, we didn’t have any issues with the people who flock to the park during the daylight hours, and save for a couple of other kids who were playing when we got there – and two more who arrived just as we were finishing up – there wasn’t a whole lot going on near that corner of the park. 

Now, I have seen that water feature numerous times but never actually paid that much attention to what it was (probably because I didn’t have a child of my own with me) and how it was constructed, so I was pleasantly surprised at the railroad theme and the confluence of the two rivers that are mapped out on the floor where the water sprays up and drains. 

The fact that you have to hit the button on the crossing guard handles to get the water to spray was very cool – it saves water, and it ties in with the whole theme – and Dylan was amazed at the “train car” benches that line the area where the water sprays out.

What really got him excited, however, was the water itself. 

Considering that much of the cooler talk around Manteca these days is about the high cost of the Great Wolf Lodge that is going to open before we know it – and the traffic it will bring, and the money it will generate – it was nice to know that in a pinch there’s a place that you can take your kids and they can have the kind of fun that only kids can have without having to spend a dime. We brought some apple juice, and a towel, and save for one little jailbreak attempt towards the gazebo – he “saw some bicycles” – the water feature was more than enough to keep his attention and serve as a test of his bravery.

For anybody looking to try it out for the first time, I offer this suggestion – make sure you get the lay of the land and the cycle of the fountains before venturing out to try and grab a picture.

Nothing refreshes you and gets you to jump – and prompts your child to scream with delight – more than an unexpected blast of cold water right up your shorts.

I think he’s still laughing about that one. 

While we had to wrap him up in a blanket a couple of times to warm him up before the water drew him back in – the water was quite cold which served him well while running in the sun, but not so much when the water died down and the wind picked him up – I would have to say it was a successful little adventure, and absolutely something that I would suggest to somebody looking to kill an hour or two with little ones in tow. 

Not everything fun has to cost money, and while that water feature hasn’t always been available to the public – the drought, and the issues in the park, have prompted it to go dry more than once – it’s something fun that local families can enjoy again without having to pay for gas to drive somewhere, or pay for parking, or even pick up an astronomical amusement park food tab. 

It’s good old-fashioned fun, just like running through the sprinklers. 

And if I had any doubts about whether he enjoyed himself, they were quickly dashed as soon as we got home. 

“When are we going back, daddy?” he asked, bathing suit still on. “I want to go back!”

We will, son. Soon enough. 

The water play feature is available for use on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 7:30 p.m. until early September.