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From Water Wonderland to water wasteland - Odessa American: News

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From Water Wonderland to water wasteland

People remember water park first opened in 1980

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Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014 12:00 pm

Odessan Brandon Howard wanted a place to fly his quad-copter and photograph something interesting. Summer was approaching, and so he chose a former family destination turned aquatic ruin, filled with rattlesnakes, squatters and graffiti.

Water Wonderland.

It’s a place, where if you lived here 30 years ago, you zipped down water slides, rode in bumper cars and endured a mega wave in the wave pool. But Howard said he filmed for other reasons.

“Because I wanted to, and it because it’s ugly,” Howard said. “It’s just the most obvious place to go, pretty awesome. Those are some of my favorite pictures. It just looks like a wasteland right now. Kind of a post-apocalyptic water park.”

From above the abandoned park, in a region struggling with drought, Howard captured the defiled elephant inside the kiddie pool. The penis spray-painted at the top of the creaky, deteriorating water slides. The broken fence, a lot of junk, vandalism and overgrown grass. Not very much water.

And it seems Water Wonderland will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future, despite the occasionally optimistic TV news report or the Facebook petition joined by nearly 9,000 people: “Bring back Water Wonderland.”

“Is it ever going to open? No. It’s dead. It’s gone. It’s history,” said Steve Patton, director of the Odessa Parks and Recreation Department, breaking a self-imposed silence about the water park he said was borne of frustration at questions about its future. “It would cost millions upon millions upon millions. Plus, there’s no water.”

The park was built in 1980 at about 16 acres, including a miniature golf course.

In 1994, when the water park first entered bankruptcy, the City of Odessa leased if from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. At the time, it seemed like a good opportunity to maintain a popular recreation spot for locals, a destination for outlying West Texans and the source of about 70 summer jobs for teens.

Then city workers had to refurbish the park in two weeks before the influx of squealing summer children began. There were leaks, rattlesnakes and skunks. The 17 water wells on the property didn’t suffice, so the city ended up laying down the same rubber lines used on oilfield leases to pump water from the Mission Dorado area.

The next year, the city lost a bid for the water park.

The year after that — 1996 — 3-year-old Jerrod McCann suffered broken legs, feet and toes when the bumper car he was riding in “exploded,” according to the civil lawsuit his parents would file. His mother, five-month pregnant Traci Mann told reporters afterwards that it “sounded like a cannon going off.” She had jumped in the water to aid Jerrod.

Owner Permian Basin Water Park Inc. settled a year later for about $400,000, according to newspaper archives. And the McCann’s weren’t the only ones to complain. A plaintiff in another lawsuit complained of serious injury when several people ‘plowed’ into her as she rode an inter-tube ride.

In the years that followed, the park changed hands, until it finally shuttered as Hero's Water World in 2003.

The owners reportedly defaulted on maintenance payments of roughly half a million to today’s owner, Aquatic Commercial Solutions, or ACS, an equipment company based in San Antonio.

ACS sold off surrounding lands. Owner Joseph York declined to be interviewed for this article. But Midland County Appraisal District records show ACS still pays property tax on the remaining land, more than 14 acres appraised at a taxable value of $321,000.

Colton Stewart started the “Bring Back Water Wonderland” Facebook page in July of 2012, because, as he wrote in his initial post, “this was my child hood, its pretty sad now. I wish my daughter had a place like i grew up with [sic].” The posts pick up every summer, including Stewart’s, which also included items like “Does anyone else remember being completely terrified by the zip line?”

In June, he lauded a decision by Midland’s city council to renovate Doug Russell Pool with a small splash park — similar to Odessa’s projects at Sherwood and Woodson pools in the early aughts. Stewart wrote that it won’t be enough with the population but that encouraging attendance that could convince local leaders of the need to go bigger.

And now, a master plan for Parks and Rec includes a recommendation for another water park or a larger water park that could serve as a destination for people in the surrounding region and beyond, but with the boom, Patton said that as planned is at least roughly five years away.

“If that happened sooner, it would be great for our area,” Patton said. “. . .There are so many water park features now. That would be cool. That would be fun. Opening up that old dinosaur with all those old amenities, that would not be fun.”

As it stands, a fence lined with barbed-wire surrounds the ruins of Water Wonderland, but the barrier is rendered useless by a large gap — apparently the result of someone knocking down a chained gate. Inside, the graffiti artists still come, as do vagrants and drug users, said Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, whose deputies still have to patrol nearby.

“We had a case a while back where somebody put the N-word very visibly where people could see it,” Painter said. “Awful.”

And he said they investigated, determining kids were the culprits, but they could never reach the San Antonio owners to file a complaint.

Even still, the former Wonderland does not rise to the level of “public nuisance” in the sheriff’s view that would allow the county to seize, condemn and demolish it. That may be justified if people were selling drugs out of the ruins, or people were getting hurt or there was some other safety threat — but that is not the case.

“Mainly,” Painter said. “It’s just run-down and ugly and full of weeds.”

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