Looking back, it seems that a majority of my childhood summers were experienced in two locations: the arcade of Skateland and Crystal Lake Pool.
Since the pool closed in 2008, summers have not been the same. While Skateland remains as it always was — a place for 12-year-old girls to couple skate with 12-year-old boys who are experimenting with cologne for the first time — Crystal Lake pool has, for the past four summers, been reduced to a sad, weeded-over lot; little more than a decaying photograph of my childhood.
Thankfully, on July 4, Crystal Lake Pool rose from its ashes like a phoenix and rebranded itself the Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatics Center. I took my kid there last week to do a comprehensive review of the remodeled facilities.
ENTRANCE/FIRST IMPRESSION: The parking lot looks pretty much exactly as it did in the early 1990s, when I maxed out CLP like a mermaid with a suntanning addiction. The front entrance now opens directly into the aquatics center, and I was allowed to walk into the pool area without being forced through a maze of dank locker rooms and nightmarish public showers.
The pool, for all of the nostalgic glory it holds in my memory, is also a place where my peripheral vision saw a lot of old naked dudes. I'm glad that that part of the swimming experience is now optional — no word on the level of traumatic public nudity in the new locker rooms — because I would think any time you could avoid that kind of thing it would only serve to enhance the overall enjoyment of your afternoon.
ADMISSION: $6 — yowzers! This is Urbana, not Rockefeller Heights! That price point will probably keep out a lot of the riffraff — and let me be clear here, when I say "riffraff," I mean anyone who falls within Clearasil's demographic — but it might also keep those on a budget (i.e., those without air conditioning; i.e., struggling humor writers) from attending on a regular basis.
However, when you consider all of the things you get access to for that $6 entrance fee — three massive water slides, a play zone for the young folk, a rock climbing wall — it's kind of a deal. This new and improved Crystal Lake Pool is less of a public pool and more of a scaled-down Wet n' Wild.
CROWD: I went there on a Tuesday afternoon, mid-80s weather, and the pool had a healthy crowd, but it was not too packed. I was able to find not one, but two adjacent lounge chairs.
Chambana Mamitas were out and on the prowl. Chambana Dads were out as well, albeit in smaller numbers, strutting it up with a proud display of chest hair and manly mammaries. Trunks on trunks on trunks — not a European Speedo in sight. Looking good, Urbana! Looking good!
POOL LAYOUT: The old pool was a giant rectangle with diving boards parked in the back. The newly remodeled pool uses that old rectangular space rather ingeniously, carving out a bunch of smaller pools that feed into each other and offer different functions.
There is a play structure at the front with plenty of interactive knobs and streams to keep the kids entertained, including a gigantic bucket that fills up with water every couple minutes and dumps out, drenching everyone in a 10-foot radius.
That play structure gives way to a medium-deep pool area, where bigger kids can swim or do cannonballs off the edge. Located to the right of Cannon Ball Lane is a small, semi-enclosed whirlpool that may be the single most brilliant addition to the park: When I ventured in with my kid and my niece, I found that the whirlpool current was considerably difficult to exit; as such it serves as a kind of containment zone for adolescents: throw your kid in the whirlpool and enjoy a free half an hour until they can muscle their way out.
Behind the whirlpool are the water slides, the diving board, the rock climbing wall and a few swimming lanes. The swimming lanes are perhaps the most underwhelming portion of the new pool — but that's OK because they're also the least fun.
WATER SLIDES: The facility features three adult-sized water slides. I was relieved to discover the maximum weight capacity was 300 pounds — giving me a couple birthday cakes worth of wiggle room before I was too large to take the plunge.
During my day at the park, I conquered two of the three water slides: the green slide with the 720-degree corkscrew at the bottom, and the enclosed slide with the 4-foot free-fall into the deep end.
Both slides (which I again feel compelled to mention are included with the price of admission) exceeded my modest expectations, in addition to exceeding the natural comfort zone of my swim trunks' wedgie. That, in and of itself, is pretty fair measurement of a water slide's effectiveness: the more uncomfortable the trunk bunching, the more effective the slide. The 720-degree corkscrew left me with a 360-degree wedgie. Wrap your mind around that. Or don't.
ROCK WALL: I don't know that man was built to climb a rock wall barefoot in swimming trunks, but I gave it a shot. I made it about halfway before losing my dignity in an exhausted, backwards bellyflop. Next summer, I will defeat it.
OVERALL: Well done, Urbana Park District. For once, a reboot that is better than the original.
Ryan Jackson's only concern is the lack of a high dive, and he can be reached at email@example.com.