One of the things about growing up in Central Texas was that the cities there weren’t large enough to be considered “big,” but not rural enough to be considered “country.” Well, plenty of the smaller towns (like where I grew up) are country, but the main cities like Waco, Temple, and Belton are a bit too big to be “rural.” What that meant was that there were just enough people for someone to say “we need to come up with some entertainment options,” but not enough people around to get something like a Six Flags park going.
Today, of course, it is a different story – entertainment options are everywhere. But in the 1970s and 80s (and even into the 90s and 2000s), there were many attempts to start something – most without the kind of interest and financial backing needed to get very far.
One of the odder ones was Wild Water Coaster – basically two water slides on a hill in the middle of nowhere. What you see in the picture above was all there was. And if the hill looks newly-constructed… that is because it was. They literally scooped a huge mound out of the surrounding dirt and put two water slides on it some time in 1978 or 1979. Two names have been associated with the park by former employees are Andy Hill and Jack Matthews (from Oklahoma). But who they are? Not sure. They apparently had some money to burn on a weird experiment.
This experiment was built along the frontage road of IH-35 in a suburb of Waco called Hewitt. Nowadays, Hewitt has a lot going on. In the late 70s and early 80s, the frontage of I-35 in Hewitt was barren. It was mostly a few billboards and the occasional small gas station for miles. Across the highway were two cemeteries. They literally built this water slide park in the middle of nowhere. And many people in the Waco area still have no idea it existed to this day.
I remember going to it several times as a kid. I thought it was only open one summer, but many people remember it lasting two or three years. But what I remember was that there was a higher and lower slide, and the higher slide was killer on your back because of a sudden drop-off. I think you can see the sudden drop-off on the right side of the photo above about 2/3 of the way up and 2/3 of the way over. So I stuck with the lower option. But like many people, I remember having a blast there as a kid.
However, not everyone has great memories. Apparently this park was not built with safety in mind. People remember how the relaxed oversight led to many broken teeth and noses from people running into each other. There were multiple reports of people getting impetigo from going there too often. At one point, someone went over the edge of the slide and got hurt badly. They had to add a tunnel on the corner where he went over – you can see it in center top of the picture above. But then the tunnel caused people to turn upside down, leaving some of them confused and nearly drowning in the pool at the bottom.
Looking at this now, you have to believe that the owners had plans to expand the park into a lot more. There were no restaurants, no shops, nothing at all around it. But in town was Waco Lion’s Park, where there was not only a double water slide tower, but a large pool, a train, tennis courts, Putt-Putt Golf, and most importantly… food (both an on-grounds burger place famous for good, cheap burgers as well as local restaurants right down the road). Why travel out to the boonies to hit two slides when you could drive across town (or even down the road) to a full blown park? Some people remember that there was a Putt-Putt golf course added the second year, but I don’t really remember that. But it would make sense to try and expand this 15 minute distraction into an actual… destination.
However, it just didn’t last long and by 1980 or 81 the slides suddenly closed. Some say the owners skipped town, others say they filed for bankruptcy. Employees just recall showing up for work one day to a closed park and no final paychecks.
The remains of the park stayed on the hill for years. I remember riding the school bus past them day in and day out as they slowly feel apart. After a few years, someone removed a lot of the park, but a few pieces of the slide were left for some reason. Then the hill was partially dug away – flatted slightly. Who knows how many years or decades later it was finally smoothed out completely. In recent years, Hewitt has started growing and there are, ironically, a ton of restaurants and shops where the park used to be. It probably sat where the Walmart gas pumps or Atwoods parking lot is now.
For decades, most of us forgot about the park altogether, until some Waco nostalgia groups popped up on Facebook. Even still, few of us could remember it’s name. To most of us, it was just “the water slides on 35.” Some people even thought they were closer to a town called Lorena (there could have been some slides down there that I have never heard of, but I am sure these were in Hewitt). The consensus (of two people that could remember) was that it was called “Wild Water Coaster.” Which is so cheesy it’s kind of awesome. But it is also one of many examples of how “entertainment” in smaller towns also came in smaller packages that often were less safe for people than they should have been. I mean… water slides had existed for a long time before this. Designing safe ones should have been a formula by this time.
Or maybe they were, but it was a formula that only the bigger cities could afford?
The kid in me remembers the fun. The adult in me looks at the picture and thinks: that was it? Nothing to do while you weren’t sliding (or weren’t sliding at all), and very little shelter from the Texas sun? Ouch