Restless Oklahoma: Ponderosa Water Park

Credit:Johnny Fletcher via Abandoned Oklahoma

When I was a kid in the early ’80s, somewhere around 9 years old, something magical happened in the sleepy little lakeside subdivision in which I lived: the family that lived below the bluff atop which our end of the neighborhood sat built a water park on their property

It was no Whitewater Bay, but for basically being built in someone’s back yard on the side of a two-lane country highway, it was pretty impressive. It featured two slides–one long half-pipe slide that twisted and turned until it dumped you out into the large pool at the end, and an inner tube slide that was a series of shallow pools with straight slides connecting them all the way down until you got to the big pool. There was also a mini golf course and a snack bar and grill, and they were working on putting in a go cart track before they were forced to shut down.

The two or three summers that park was in operation were the best ever for the kids in that neighborhood. While admission was ostensibly $1 for two hours, they would let us pay $1 and then “forget” to kick us out when our time was up. Most of my allowance money went to spending just about every day at the slides with my friends. When we got tired of climbing back to the top of the hill to stand in line and go down the slide again, we would just hang out in the big pool until we got pruney or our moms would call and tell the park operators to send us home.

My friends and I particularly liked to hang out in this one corner of the pool, next to the pump. Not only was it far enough away from where the slides dumped people into the pool that you didn’t have to worry about colliding with anybody, but if you got in the water there you could feel the pump pulling you toward the low wall that separated it from the rest of the pool, which we all thought was a neat sensation. We also liked to get on top of the pump wall and do flips and dives off of it.

This is how most of my summer days went until one day during the summer of my eleventh year, when tragedy struck.

My friends and I had gone there that day as usual, and nothing was amiss. It wasn’t until a few hours after we’d gone back home for the day that we heard the news: a nine-year-old girl from town nearby had been playing in the pool next to the pump wall when she fell in on the pump side. I’ll spare you the details of exactly what happened to her, except to say that it was one of the most horrific ways to die I’ve ever heard of. Of course, the park was shut down immediately and everyone was sent home.

The family who owned and built the park were devastated, and I can only imagine what the girl’s family went through, and likely still goes through today. There was, of course, an investigation, and as far as I remember, the owners were fined heavily for not having covered and secured the pump area. In spite of all of this, there were occasionally noises made about reopening the park, and at some point in the nineties ownership changed hands and the new owners expressed their intentions to get it back up and running. But it never happened, and the park still sits there, abandoned to this day.

This is not a story about a haunting — at least not in the traditional sense. As far as I know there have never been any reports of disembodied voices, no objects moving of their own accord, no inexplicable lights or shadows, not even any orbs showing up in photographs that I’m aware of. But a place doesn’t have to have a literal ghost in order to feel haunted. Sometimes the aspect of tragedy is enough, as is the sense that it could have easily me or one of my friends who ended the park’s–and our own–life that day.

Here’s a haunting video slideshow of photos of the abandoned park (note that their timeline for when the park opened is way, way off):


4 thoughts on “Restless Oklahoma: Ponderosa Water Park

  1. (The person on the video can’t spell Oologah either.)

    I never even knew this existed. And I made the mistake of looking up more details of this case. *shudders in horror* I imagine it DID make for some amazing and happy memories of your childhood though, when all was moving along as it should have. It looks like it’s beyond repair at this point, would probably have to be torn out and start over (not that that couldn’t happen).

    I love that I’ve lived in Oklahoma my whole life, and I’m still finding out new stories of things here all the time, even of things relatively local!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean Marie Bauhaus

      Heh, a lot of people have a hard time with Oologah for some reason.

      Yeah, it was really great, until it was awful. I don’t think the current owners have any desire to fix it up, but I’m sure that ship has long since sailed.

      I’m learning some surprising things doing this series. Oklahoma has a pretty storied past!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. JRM

    I rented this place and lived there for a year and a half. I never saw or heard of any ghosts, or felt any wierd presence. It was actually a peaceful place to live. At that time the owner didn’t want to rebuild. so most of it just sits. I thought the grounds would make a cool campground. The mini golf and go cart track would still be usable.


    1. Jean Marie Bauhaus

      In glad to hear it seems peaceful. When I was a kid, that while area below the cliff was owned by the Bentleys, and they would let us neighborhood kids ride or bikes down there and explore the woods. I wish it was still open. Now there’s no good way to get down to the lake from the neighborhood and it’s frustrating.

      Thanks for commenting!


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