Pedersen On Sports

According to our sports guy, Arizona has a severe lack of water parks

The mythical ice that blankets the Santa Cruz River each Tucson "winter" cracked and broke free just after noon last Saturday, marking the official start to a storied pastime for many locals: bitching and moaning about how fricking hot it is, in a place they chose to live despite knowing how freaking hot it is.

Now that we've gotten the otherwise unimportant milestone of the first 100-degree day out of the way, it's time to find ways to keep cool during the next 100 or so days, most of which will top out at 100 degrees or more.

Sadly, you'd think a region that must deal with extended extreme heat on an annual basis would have more cool-off options. And wimping it out in an air-conditioned home as much as possible doesn't count.

Some of it we can't help; it's geography's fault.

Our landlocked state has no ocean to flock to, as was the case for me growing up in New Jersey. With the Jersey Shore (yes, those reality show characters are spot on) just an hour's drive away, my friends and I could spend any number of summer vacation days basking on the beach or plopping into the Atlantic Ocean. A lot better than having to drive six-plus hours to get to San Diego, or down to Rocky Point.

Lakes? Well, if you're down with trekking to one of the handful of fake lakes that have been carved into the desert—most of them resemble rock quarries with reclaimed water poured into them—and hoping not to get dysentery, go for it.

Sure, there are plenty of pools, whether they be the private kind or the various city, county, town or neighborhood watering holes. But they quickly become overrun with sunscreen runoff and, in many cases, way too much chlorine in a pre-emptive attempt to battle the inevitable kid accident. Nothing like putting those tax dollars to good use.

Which leaves the wonderful world of water parks. These oases of chilled, flowing fluid are among the few cherished childhood memories I still cling to from my Jersey days. I do so for many reasons, most notably the uniqueness of that once- or twice-a-summer visit to an all-inclusive locale full of slides, sprays, waves, inner tubes and so many other elements of cool, wet relaxation.

What are these water parks I speak of, you're wondering? Well, I don't mean Breakers, astonishingly the only facility that can truly be considered a water park in Southern Arizona. Breakers is nice and all, but if that's all we have to choose from (as has been the case since the rickety Wyatt's WaterWorld shuttered in 2007) we've got problems.

And as cute and quaint as it is, the splash pad area at Brandi Fenton Park near River Road and Alvernon can only provide so much fun before you get tired of running back and forth through jets of water shooting out of the ground.

There are also neighborhood-only water parks, like in the Red Rock Village community northwest of Tucson and the one in my backyard, in Rancho Sahuarita. But unless you're living in those communities, or have a friend with some guest passes, you're out of luck.

That means all we have is Breakers, which in my experience is at the extreme low end of water parks. There are maybe five slides, a semi-effective wave pool and some other little water attractions. All in all, it's not worth making the drive to Marana, then rumbling down an unpaved road to an unpaved parking lot.

You could go to Phoenix, where there are three water parks (Big Surf in Tempe, Sunsplash in Mesa and Wet 'N' Wild on the north side of Phoenix), if you're desperate. But you might as well just turn left at Casa Grande and head for California at that point.

The fact that Arizona only has four official water parks just blows my mind, even more than the fact this state doesn't dominate the solar power market. Why the country's warmest state year-round isn't oversaturated with water parks the way we are with check cashing outlets and convenience stores that think a Phoenix-only pseudo-magazine counts as an alternative newspaper is beyond me.

To put things in perspective, the fine Garden State that I speak so unhighly of most of the time has at least 18 water parks, despite also having a real-life ocean, not to mention hundreds of natural lakes and rivers that actually flow. The beach town of Wildwood (population 5,300) itself has as many parks as all of Maricopa County, despite the fact you can see the Atlantic from the tops of those parks' many, many water slides.

We need water parks, and we need them now. More than we need a "modern" streetcar or 25-story student complexes, Tucson needs a place where you can cool off while shuttling through darkened, twisting tubes full of fast-flowing agua fria.

And I've got just the place to put a ginormous one: El Rio Golf Course.

The city has made no secret of wanting to do away with this aging dinosaur of a municipal course. Despite its rich history and the coalition of westside neighborhood associations and business leaders fighting to keep it open as well as push away any legitimate offer to convert it to something else—how dare they consider building an institution of higher learning there!—the end is near for El Rio. It costs too much to maintain, not to mention the fact that a city government shouldn't be in the golf business in the first place. And with the economy still in a place where every dollar counts, Tucson needs to unload this.

Why not sell El Rio to someone willing to turn at least part of it into a water park? It doesn't have to be all of the course (there are 114 acres there, and the state's biggest water park, Wet 'N' Wild, covers only 35 acres), but enough for a recreational facility that everyone can partake of maybe once or twice a summer.

If I knew of someone with the financial commitment it would take to open up such a place, I'd volunteer to be their liaison with the city to get this deal done. It makes sense for everyone, including the people in the many aging neighborhoods around El Rio who are very concerned about what would go there but at the same time are allowing blight in their own area.

Water parks are fun, and they help take our minds off the fact we live far too close to the sun than is medically recommended. So let's get this done, important people of Southern Arizona.

Meanwhile, I'm gonna go stand under the massive bucket that pours out chilled water at the Rancho Sahuarita splash park. Because I can.

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