They’re shuttered, paved over or almost completely forgotten.
But for Kristopher Rowberry, the amusement parks of yesterday are just as fascinating as any trip to Disneyland or Great America, even if there’s nothing left to ride.
Take, for example, his recent endeavor to chronicle the golden years of Manteca’s famed Oakwood Lake waterslides. If you were to ask any Manteca resident that has called the growing community home for a substantial amount of time, they’ll have some story that involves the park.
Or they’ll tell you that the only thing people from outside of Manteca ever asked about was – Oakwood Lake.
Rowberry sat down with Manteca Vice Mayor and Chamber of Commerce CEO Debby Moorhead Friday afternoon to chronicle her experiences with the park in her time in the community. The councilwoman recounted that same scenario playing out on the opposite side of the country.
“I think it was in 2009 or 2010, and I saw sitting at a bar and these two young men sat down and the bartender asked for their ID and I could tell that they were from California,” Moorhead said. “I told them I could see that they were from California and asked where they were from and they told me and they asked where I was from and when I said Manteca the first thing they asked about was the waterslides.
“That really tells you something.”
All that remains of what once was essentially Manteca’s summer brand are a bunch of decaying tubes on the side of the Highway 120 Bypass – remnants of the system that included the first fiberglass waterslides in the United States. The maze of rolling concrete hills and pathways was razed to make way for homes, and the sprawling parking lot is now a massive lake. The park closed in 2004.
Rowberry said that he used to drive past Oakwood Lake on way to Sonora for summer camping trips and used to bug his parents about taking him there. He never had the chance to make it before they closed.
He did however get some of his wish on Friday, even if was partially distorted.
Along with Nicholas Laschkewitsch of American Coaster Enthusiasts Northern California, Rowberry got to walk the waterslide boneyard and see the sections that were at one time filled with water and people and served as a source of so much fun for an entire region. They’re ghost tubes now really, and that wasn’t lost on the man that found exactly what he was searching for when he was started his endeavor.
“It was both haunting and humbling at the same time,” he said. “It felt like something was wrong – like those pieces were out of place and that they just didn’t belong in that state, sitting there on the side of a freeway. There was a lot of history built into those sections. And there they sit.”
The finished episode – part of the Lost Parks of Northern California series – is expected to be available for viewing at the end of September. Those interested can access it by visiting www.greatamericanthrills.net or www.acenorcal.org, or they can search for Lost Parks of Northern California on Google. The video itself will be hosted on YouTube.