The first time Paul Mix jumped into the pool at Salt Lake City’s Wild Wave water park back in 1979, he nearly drowned.
“Everybody was so excited, and I just jumped in,” said Mix, then-21 and the head lifeguard. “As I came up, a big wave hit me in my face. I was trying to get a breath, but I got water.”
It was the only time that Mix, who swam for his high school and college teams, ever felt panicked in the water.
From day one, the Wild Wave was a community hit, even though some said it was folly to build a water park in the desert. The 500,000-gallon pool was only the third of its kind ever built worldwide and it put Salt Lake City on the map as a water park destination in the Intermountain West and beyond.
Mix wasn’t the only city worker in the pool that June day, but the way. Then-Mayor Ted Wilson and other city officials took a dip, even though the water was ocean-cold, he said.
“It was really fun,” said Mix, who later became the park’s manager when Raging Waters inked a contract with the city to take over the facility.
Raging Waters added cutting-edge features and thrills. Among them were a 70-foot cliff dive, the world’s first H2O rollercoaster, slides, hot tubs, kids’ pools and other attractions for waders and splashers of every age. In those years the park was also recognized as one of the most innovate and safest in the United States.
Located at 1700 South and 1200 West, the park was a terrific place for family outing and a safe place to let kids hang out on their own on a summer day. It proved to be a great benefit for the Glendale neighborhood and provided countless first-jobs for the city’s teens. At one point, Mix recalls, seven of eight kids from one Rose Park family were all working at the park.
“It was such a wonderful thing for the community,” said Mix, who eventually left to help launch Seven Peaks in Provo.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the beloved park is all but a memory. Years of neglect and mismanagement have left it serious and dangerous disrepair, said Dan Rip, Real Estate Policy & Program Manager for Salt Lake City’s Department of Community and Neighborhoods.
Today, weeds grow up through cracks in the pools. Nearly all mechanical equipment is out of date and has been stripped of any valuable metals. At the very least, the park’s slides and other structures need renovations and resurfacing. There have been fires, break-ins and so many other challenges that present real threats to public safety.
Things fell apart, Rip said, when operators failed to make necessary or promised repairs and became mired in financial woes and walked away from their promises, taking some of the parks’ equipment on their way out.
A new operator came on board in 2018, promising $6 million in improvements, Rip said. They walked away a year later, spooked by the scope of the project, the costs for which were nearing $20 million.
So, what’s to be done? Rebuild, restore and re-open? Or dismantle and begin something new?
After consulting with experts, city staff have placed the estimated cost of restoring the park at $25 million or more. And even then, a reliable operator would have to be willing to take on the challenge. The estimated cost for a disassembly and a new use, closer to $600,000, Rip said.
It’s the latter options that staff has recommended, he said, and the city has launched a community survey, to gather input and ideas from residents. There are some limitations on how the park’s 17-acres can be developed, Rip said. Because the land was purchased with water conservancy dollars, the facility must remain an outdoor recreation site that is accessible to all.
Rip, who spent childhood summers at the park and later took his own kids there, is not ruling out the possibility of another water park. He frequently gets calls from residents and citizen groups who want to know what it would take to reopen.
“People are really mourning the loss of the park,” he said. “Whatever we build, it’s important that the community play a significant role in helping us choose a direction.”
For his part, the 62-year-old Mix, now a mortgage broker, would love to see a new, revitalized park open, although he agrees that the $25 million price tag to do so might leave such dreams out of reach.
Last fall after hearing about fires in the park, Mix said he drove out to see the damage and found himself overwhelmed by the state of the facility.
“I can tell you, I sat in the parking lot and cried,” he said. “Because, you know, it was kind of my baby. I loved that place.”
You can help plan the future of the water park by taking this survey and sharing your memories here: https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/a52f5bc4381f4455a6fed292a9547cc7