Splashy Park : Indians Hope New Venture Will Ride a Wave of Success

While three other Indian reservations in San Diego County have turned to high-stakes bingo in their quest for wealth, these Indians at the base of Palomar Mountain have for years relied on a commercial enterprise somewhat more aligned with their own culture.

Their La Jolla Campground, with 600 primitive campsites, has long been a popular destination for campers in tents, vans and recreational vehicles who come here with inner tubes to ride down the headwaters of the San Luis Rey River.

It only made sense, they say, that a $443,000 economic development grant last year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development be earmarked for a compatible money-making project.

So, while the nearby Rincon Indians have at least for now failed in making any bingo bucks--their bingo parlor recently went out of business amid allegations of mismanagement--the La Jolla Indians have further invested in the tourism business, this time in the form of a $1.2-million water amusement park.


The park is scheduled to be open by July 4, becoming the largest facility of its type in San Diego County. While a water park might not have the indigenous feel of their campgrounds, the Indians say they are sure the enterprise will make money, even if this place is about 55 miles from San Diego.

Project manager Greg Briggs says the natural ambiance of this 8,000-acre, oak tree-studded reservation, with Palomar Mountain towering overhead, will set this amusement park off from any urban counterpart.

San Diego may be the home of Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, but Briggs figures there isn’t another amusement park around with a setting like this one. People will make the drive for a day’s worth of slidin’ and splashin’, Briggs said confidently.

The park will be called Sengme Oaks Water Park because if it took on the name of the Indian band and was known as the La Jolla Water Park, paying customers might instead head for a somewhat more chic destination, Briggs said.


The 20-acre water park will have a capacity of 2,000 people and will feature:

- Two twisting, turning slides, each 350-feet long, that make a 45-foot drop in elevation. The 8% grade will allow sliders to sit up and go about 10 m.p.h., or lie down and reach speeds approaching 40 m.p.h., he said. The average ride will take 20 seconds, powered by 2,000 gallons a minute of rushing water.

- Two side-by-side “speed slides” which are straight as arrows for a 320-foot run. The slides make a sudden 60-foot drop in elevation at the start, and the riders will race one another by sliding along just a sheet of water, reaching speeds of up to 50 m.p.h. Briggs calls it “Custer’s Last Slide.”

- Two smaller and slower winding slides for younger children, who will drop into a 2-foot-deep pool with lifeguards at the ready, along with a very wide but straight slide for whole groups of people to ride down, arm in arm.


The receiving pool for the smaller slides will also feature a contraption that shoots water 12 feet into the air, forming a 360-degree waterfall for children to play under and within.

The entire system of slides and pools will utilize more than 150,000 gallons of well water that will be filtered and purified.

Briggs said slides manufactured by White Water of Vancouver, B.C., were chosen because of the safety record at other water parks around the United States where its slides are used. “The design of some slides can cause injuries, such as having a drop before going into a curve. When that happens, the rider can become disoriented and bang his head pretty bad. But that’s never happened on these slides.”

The park will also have showers, lockers, a food concession and a gift shop.


Future expansion plans call for the construction of an 18,000-square-foot pool with a machine capable of generating 3-foot waves every three seconds, and a 10-foot-wide, 320-foot-long “white water rapids” for high-speed inner tubing.

In addition to the federal grant, the La Jolla Indians took out commercial loans of about $800,000 to finance the project. The commercial success of the campgrounds helped in securing the loans, tribe officials say.

Briggs, who has helped manage three other water parks around the country--including one inside a shopping mall--was hired by the La Jolla Indians to help design, construct and operate this park.

The park will give full-time summer employment to 45 people and is expected to pay for itself within seven years, he said. The tribe already has decided that 50% of the park’s profit will return to the reservation, perhaps for youth scholarships, and the balance will be returned to the project for capital expenditures.


The park will operate from 10 a.m. to dusk. The all-day admission price is $6.95, $2.50 for children 6 and under. Campers at the nearby campground will receive a discount of $1 per person.

“We’re all ecstatic about the project,” said tribal chairman Doris (Mitzi) Magante. “Of course, we’re a little apprehensive about it because there’s so much money involved, but you’ve got to invest money before you can make money.

“We will never have bingo here. We’ve always said there will be no gambling, at all.”