June 1, 2011

Wakepark the latest move to improve recreation along the Trinity River

A new wakeboard park is the latest attraction in a plan to make the Trinity River in Fort Worth a recreation destination.

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FORT WORTH -- For 15 years, Tommy Fambrough dreamed of opening his own wakepark, but not just anywhere would do.

While there are already three wakeparks in Texas, including WakeSport Ranch in Cresson, none is in the heart of any city.

"I didn't want one out between here and Waco," Fambrough said. "I wanted one here in the Metroplex."

In the next week, his dream will finally be realized. And local community planners hope that Fambrough's operation will be just one of numerous attractions approved in coming years as leaders hope to make the Trinity River more of a recreation destination.

Fambrough is putting the finishing touches on Cowtown Wakepark on Northside Drive -- with five 45-foot-towers in a 5-acre lake adjacent to the Trinity River.

Wakeboarding -- riding on one board rather than using water skis -- normally requires owning a boat or knowing someone who does.

Fambrough said his business changes that.

"Basically you can show up with a swimsuit," he said. "You don't have to have a boat or equipment."

As many as five riders will be simultaneously pulled around the lake on cables. Once one falls off, they swim to the dock, and another rider can be attached to the cable.

The wakepark changes the look of the industrialized area that once included the old Fort Worth auto pound.

Fambrough pitched his idea to the Trinity River Vision Authority, which found a location on the north side.


While the $909 million Trinity River Project, which stretches from the near north side to Gateway Park, isn't slated to be completed until 2021, the wakepark is one of two attractions bringing people to the river this spring and summer.

For the second straight year, tubing will be offered beginning June 9, when the twice-monthly Happy Hour tubing events start at the Panther Island Pavilion in downtown Fort Worth. Free parking will be available in the old Tandy Center parking lot.

J.D. Granger, Trinity River Vision's executive director, said the attractions are changing the way people view the Trinity.

"It introduces people to the river that otherwise would never jump in," Granger said.

Safety concerns

Yet Fambrough and Granger know some question the idea of swimming a river in the middle of a city. While the wakeboard community can't wait for the park to open, Fambrough said there are those who scoff at the idea of getting in.

Some concerned groups and individuals, such as the Friends of Riverside Park, which unsuccessfully opposed Trinity River Vision and Fort Worth diverting floodwaters to Riverside Park, have said there is not enough data to know whether it is safe to swim in the river.

But Fambrough notes that bacteria levels are within the state standards for swimming, just they are on the Brazos and Guadalupe rivers, which are filled with people each summer. Bacteria levels do spike on the Trinity during floods and storms, but that has also happened on the Guadalupe near New Braunfels.

"You go down to New Braunfels and everybody is all about the river," Fambrough said. "The river is not perceived badly down there. I've been going out to the Brazos River at Tin Top [in Parker County] since the early '90s. That's another Texas river where people swim. It's safe to swim there, and it's safe to swim here."

For years, Fambrough has kicked around the idea of opening a wakepark. The 43-year-old Aledo resident, a competitive water skier since he was 8, finally quit his day job in information technology four years ago and began concentrating on the park full time.

He won't say how much he has sunk into it but did say he plans to add a pro shop and restaurant to the site this year.

"I pretty much got everything into it," said Fambrough, who is confident of success.

The first competition is scheduled for June 12, when pro riders will visit the park for the Liquid Force Free 4 All, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. That will include free rides for everyone who shows up.


Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

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