Lake Dolores Might Be Coming Back!

by Ted Stimpfel

Posted: November 29, 2019
Newberry Springs Community Alliance

Waterpark moving forward.

    Over 6-years ago, this news site posted a blog on the Oasis Theme Park, a renovation of Lake Dolores.  The rebirth of the 267-acre amusement park appeared as a crazy idea back then, and it still does.

    Despite being a half-decade late on the originally announced re-opening, the project is finally going before the County of San Bernardino's Planning Commission on December 5, 2019.  Called the Dolores Lake Park in the application, the proposal can be viewed here (PDF, 166 pages, 7.7 MB).

    The original water park was successful for a number of years in the 1970s and early 1980s.  That was because it was a great idea and being the first built, it held a monopoly on the market.  People from L.A. would drive to it on inexpensive gasoline.

    Unfortunately, great ideas get copied and major waterparks are now everywhere.  The previous operators of Lake Dolores later found themselves operating in the red as the competition grew and the operational costs were not being supported by the dwindling market share.

    The waterpark is now being proposed to be rebuilt in Phase-3 of a development with an optimistic waterpark completion date of February 2023.  The Dolores Lake Park development also includes the refilling of the lakes, an RV park, commercial retail, and administrative buildings.

    While the locals may be excited about the prospect of new, low paid jobs, most of the jobs will be seasonal.  While the planned RV park holds some promise, the waterpark anchor does not.  The Planning Commission link above fails to include any financial insight as to how the waterpark would survive.

    The project appears to have been struggling for the last 6-years on the financial side.  It is now being proposed to be built in 5 phases over 5 years.  The first phase will include the reopening of a 22-acre lake and a 2-acre pond.  This will further add to the depletion of the local water table.

    According to the County Planning Commission's staff report,

"The property has specific water rights allowance for lake operations of 455 acre feet and 483 acre feet for park operations and irrigation."

    This project appears to hold some negative environmental impacts to Newberry Springs and the neighboring communities, with water consumption heading the list.  The County's Land Use Services Department has once again failed to notify Newberry Springs of the Environmental Impact Study being prepared.  The public deadline to address the secret environmental study expired on September 17, 2019.

    Of some promise is the 45,727 square feet of commercial space slated in Phase-5 which is currently being penciled-in for completion in June 2026.

    When a large 5-phase project is conveniently pigeon-holed into a neat 5-year timeline, with each phase being given an approximate 1-year window, the timeline usually lacks adequate thought.  It is more of a mirror reflecting wishful thinking.  If the project had funding, it would be built at one time.  This sounds like the developer is seeking county permits in order to fish for the necessary funding.

    For a slice of history, the staff report states,

    The Project site has a long history and has evolved since its initial phase of conception, planning, and construction in the late 1950s.  The Project site was originally designed and built for private use and was known as Lake Dolores.  In 1962, a basic campground adjacent to the small lake was opened to the public.  Over a 25-year period, rides and attractions were added and the site evolved into a waterpark.

    Lake Dolores experienced its peak attendance between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s.  The park featured a man-made lake fed by underground springs, various water slide attractions, a "lazy river," bumper boats, and an oval Jet Ski water racetrack, and a swimming pool. The park closed in the 1980s and was sold in the 1990s.

    In 1998, the park was reopened under a new name "Rock-A-Hoola" and featured a 1950s theme.  In February 2000, the park's owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  After a substantial renovation, the water park reopened again in 2002 under a new CUP and was renamed "Discovery Waterpark."  The park operated intermittently from 2002 to 2004.  In 2004, the park closed and has subsequently been substantially vandalized.  Except for sporadic use by commercial and video filmmakers, the site has been abandoned.  As the park has been unused for over a decade, the previously issued CUP expired due to the prior owner's failure to satisfy the Project's conditions of approval.

    The county's staff report also states,

    When all development phases of the Project are completed, it is anticipated that the park will employ between 150-200 persons.

    This would be a massive payroll.  When combined with all of the debt services of the improvements, it is difficult to fathom where all of the necessary customers will come from.  Perhaps the project is finding some favorable demographics from the Victorville/Hesperia area.

    Waterparks can be built bigger and better but the most important elements for success are location, location, and location.  Despite having great visibility from Interstate-15, the nearest highway offramp isn't convenient for retail.  The outcome appears bleak as the competition already has this proposed park beat and headed towards another bankruptcy.

    From the far left-field peanut gallery, this project appears to be a high-risk investment.

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