Eric Gieszl can still remember a childhood spending so many days waiting in line with his family to get into the Wild Rivers water park in Irvine that when it was due to close and despite living out of state he got a season pass and returned a handful of times.
“That park meant so much to me personally that even from afar I got a season pass to come back and visit and just hold on to those memories and enjoy it for the last time,” Gieszl told City News Service.
“I know many others in the community felt the same way — a sense of loss when Wild Rivers shut down.”
But now Gieszl is the director of guest experience at the new and bigger Wild Rivers water park, which had a “soft opening” on Sunday at the Orange County Great Park.
“One of the things that makes Wild Rivers very unique is we have four six-person raft rides in the park,” Gieszl said. “Outside of the Orlando market there’s only one with four of these rides and many are lucky to have one.”
Having four such rides means short lines and more access to the attractions, he said.
“These are high-capacity rides so we get a lot of guests through them, which will keep the lines shorter,” he said.
Although not all of the attractions are operational, they are expected to be soon, he said.
“What we have open today is more than we had in the original park, and on a bigger and better scale,” Gieszl said.
Ultimately the water park, which is on 20 acres, will feature 20 rides and three restaurants.
The Wild Rivers water park emerged from the Lion Country Safari, which closed in 1984. The first Wild Rivers opened in July 1986 and was scheduled to close in 2007 as the Irvine Company expected to redevelop the property with homes, but a year later the housing industry collapsed, postponing the closure until 2011.
The owner, Mike Riedel, then spent years after that searching for a new site, Gieszl said.
“It’s been a pursuit of his for well more than 14 years,” Gieszl said. “He’s dedicated his life to rebuilding Wild Rivers. He’s gone through a lot of ups and downs with potential locations in the Great Park identified.”
Various deals to relocate it to the Great Park collapsed, and at one point there was talk of opening it up in Temecula, Gieszl said.
The park is 50% bigger than it was in its heyday, Gieszl said.
The park also boasts a variety of attractions for all ages. There’s a sort of water-based playground ideal for toddlers with a 500-gallon tipping bucket on a 30-foot play structure. And the water is just nine-inches deep, so “it’s great for the little ones, who are not yet comfortable with swimming, yet it’s a very safe environment,” Gieszl said.
For older visitors not interested in thrill rides, there’s a “lazy river” attraction, which is 1,700 feet long and where visitors can either swim in a channel or float along on a tube, Gieszl said.
Some slides feature “translucent and aqua-lucent” technology that enhances the experience with a burst of color, Gieszl said.
Mindful of the drought conditions, Gieszl noted that the park fills up its attractions at the start of the season and with the latest technology is able to refilter nearly all of the water throughout the season.
“Any loss that comes is largely from evaporation,” Gieszl said.
The water usage at the park is “insignificant” compared to watering golf courses, he said.
“We are recirculating the water and the majority of it stays in the pool,” he said.
The park has a deli open now expect to open another restaurant soon along with snack stands featuring ice cream and funnel cakes throughout. A Mustang Bar is also in the works.
The park will continue to be open daily through mid-August, and then it will be open on weekends through September. Adult admission is $50 and $35 for children if ordered online for the next couple of days, Gieszl said. Children 2 and under and seniors 62 and older get in free.
Prices will go up to $65 for the day if ordered ahead of time online and $75 at the park. Children’s prices will go up to $40 if ordered in advance.