Bob Martin, former general manager of Wild Water Adventure Park in Clovis, now has the same position at Island Water Park, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Fresno this summer. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
While the Fresno area may be known to bring brutal heat, there is an oasis for people trying to cool down and have some fun known as Island Waterpark.
Island Waterpark will be celebrating its 20th year anniversary this July. It’s had a long and interesting history in that time.
The year was 1997, and after building affordable apartments and housing in Fresno’s west side right off Highway 99, entrepreneur Richard Ehrlich wanted to use a remaining 43 acres of land to build California’s newest waterpark.
Even though Ehrlich had no experience in the waterpark industry at the time, he joined the World Waterpark Association. Construction of the park began in January 1998. It opened its doors later in the summer season.
Though the park did have its up and downs in its first ten years, the 2007-2008 economic meltdown took its toll on many businesses nationwide, and after having lost its sales manager and general manager, Island Waterpark began to see some real struggle.
Terry Mackey, an industry veteran and consultant, was brought in to turn things around, fix broken systems, bring some upgrades to the park and make it profitable again.
Sadly, in the following years of 2010 and 2011, both Ehrlich and Mackey passed away, and Mackey’s second in command, Amber Watson, became the consultant for the park.
Over a span of seven years, Watson brought stability and substantial profitability to the park and helped bring the annual number of park guests from 125,000 to 250,000.
She also came up with an “After Dark” program that kept the park illuminated and in operation from 8 p.m. to midnight on selected summer nights. There is also a dance area with a DJ and live music for people 21 and over.
In 2017, Watson decided to pursue career opportunities in the concert promotion industry, but before she left, she snagged Bob Martin, general manager of Wild Water Adventure Park in Clovis, to ensure the park continued to bring in profits and visitors.
A San Jose native, Martin came to Fresno in 1990 to manage minor league football team the Fresno Bandits. He also managed the Fresno Falcons hockey team, and was considering managing an arena football team in San Jose when a friend told him that he should consider working for Wild Water Adventure Park in Clovis.
Martin didn’t have any experience in the waterpark industry but he wanted to take up the challenge and ended up working there for 13 years. He transitioned the Island Waterpark general manager in February of 2017.
“It’s become a passion for me,” said Martin. “What drives me now is ‘how can we take this park to another level,’” Martin said. “How can we get some more attendance and how can people have more fun.”
The Island Waterpark has always been a family-owned business and since the 20th anniversary is coming up, the daughter of Richard Ehrlich, Lisa Ehrlich, wants to celebrate by bringing some new renovations and attractions to the park.
Touches to the aesthetics are already underway, adjustments to the conservation and recycling of water are being analyzed, and a birthday bash celebration is scheduled for July 20.
Martin said that even though the park was just treading water for about 12 seasons, the park has become a major spot in the Central Valley for family entertainment and hopes that with the addition of more major rides and attractions, it will become a national tourist destination someday.