It all started with a milk jug and a brick.
That’s what General Manager of Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park Mary Gathman-Kent says as she sits on a weathered wooden bench and looks at seventy-plus pieces of floating yellow and green inflatable slides, platforms, and bridges, all secured by 56 900-pound concrete anchors resting on the bottom of Lake McSwain.
Initially she and her crew took a brick, put a line on it, attached it to a milk jug, and then dropped it where they wanted the center of the park to be.
In reality, it all started with a video she saw on Facebook three years ago. It was of a park in Australia that took the inflatable course on water concept to the extreme, and it was something she had never seen before.
“It didn’t register in my brain right away,” she recalls of seeing it for the first time. “I took it to my husband and I said, ‘Babe, we gotta go to Australia and take the kids!’”
But still, the idea remained just that. With a background in business management and accounting and a lifetime of work in both the construction and hospitality industries, the addition of years had brought with them only increasing restlessness for her own business venture. She was tired of her skills, her knowledge, her hard work, helping other people to get ahead.
Then last summer she came across the same video again. Now the pieces were starting to come together.
“It clicked,” she says.
From there she spurred things into motion, and it wasn’t long before she got in touch with Wibit, the company who specializes in inflatable water park equipment, and made a contact with one of their distributors at an Orlando trade show.
The next step was to secure a location, but that came after the first two had fallen through. She had been approved for Shaver Lake, which is closer to her home in Fresno, but there wasn’t enough parking. Then she petitioned to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and got approved at Millerton Lake, but they allotted the space for cabins instead. It was probably for the best because the fluctuating water levels and unfriendly terrain wouldn’t have made for much of an accessible, family friendly environment.
But that is exactly what Splash-n-Dash is, and Gathman-Kent wants you to know it.
The aqua park (which opened June 30th of this year) beckons from the shore of Lake McSwain, and your inner child will definitely come alive at the sight of it.
“American Ninja Warrior meets Wipeout,” says Mary.
She also wants to encourage people to stay for a while.
“I tell people all the time, plan for a day at the lake. Don’t plan to come see us for an hour, come for a day. Oh, and by the way, they have a hundred campsites here, they just built six new cabins, there’s a marina store and a boat launch (the 10-mph speed limit makes it perfect for this environment).”
She doesn’t mind if you bring your own toys for the kids, or beach chairs, or stuff for a picnic or barbeque. There are two fixed-site grills but those usually go quick, so plan accordingly.
Just don’t plan on plopping yourself under an umbrella and checking your Twitter feed.
That’s right, folks. It’s exactly what you think it means. So unless your body doubles as a cell tower, you’re out of luck.
Gathman-Kent explains it like this: “It’s a blessing and a curse to not have (Wi-fi) service at this lake. It’s a blessing because it allows you to spend time with the people that you’re with, which people are lacking nowadays, but it’s a curse because people can’t Snapchat here. They can’t Facebook live right here. They have to literally take the pictures and video then wait until they get service, but sometimes people forget.”
She got tired of going out and seeing families disconnected from each other (even her own), so she saw this as an added bonus to get people to put down their devices and interact.
Before you can get in the water, you must go through a brief safety orientation and be fitted for one of their vests (you can’t bring your own). Then after you pay for your wristband (discounts and deals are available on their website) and an adult scribbles the obligatory liability signature, you’re ready.
There are trained lifeguards on duty to monitor the guests (Gathman-Kent doesn’t like the word customers because it feels cold and impersonal) at all times to ensure safety.
Splash-n-Dash is more than just a place for kids to have fun, it’s a place where adults can let loose right alongside them.
“I know people have an option in the Central Valley of where to spend their money and take their kids to do fun stuff,” says Gathman-Kent, “but I wanted to bring something unique and different.”