Lynn Kenner knew nothing about paintball when she and her husband, Vernon, were looking for an activity to anchor the park of their dreams.
And she wasn’t impressed when she investigated a few paintball operations.
“They were so dirty,” she said. “You can tell the maintenance was not there. And some of bathrooms – you wouldn’t want to go in some of the bathrooms.”
So on June 1, the Kenners opened Mansfield Paintball Adventure Park, which they call a family-friendly, Christian-oriented paintball park. They tout the clean meeting and party rooms (and bathrooms), a mechanical bull called Tornado that rents for up to $100 an hour, several large pavilions and eight paintball fields with eight separate battle scenario themes, all on a small part of their mostly wooded 57 acres in northwest Mansfield.
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The park hasn’t come without complication, most significantly having to get out of the way of a major public water pipeline that will cut through the property.
But the Kenners were not deterred. They plan to host an annual Christian summer camp beginning next year while they continue adding features, including a winding river and island for canoeing and paddle boating, a sand beach with spray features, a zip line over the water, a go-cart course, a multiple-sports field and a swimming pool. They’re currently building a boardwalk around an existing pond that they expanded and and have stocked for catch-and-release fishing.
A later phase would include cabins, meeting facilities and retreat area.
Purchasing the land and developing the paintball site cost about $2 million, Lynn Kenner said. She expects the total investment over about three years will be close to $7 million.
“People have already named us the ‘Country Club of Paintball Parks,’ not to mention ‘God’s Country,’” said Martina Rogers, who helps manage the park and promote its Christian family values. Those include, she said, “no alcohol, no smoking and no cursing.”
“Our churches are loving it; they’re coming from all over,” she added.
A paintball life
On a recent Saturday, Jessica Smith took a break from a paintball contest, pushed her helmet up on her forehead but held her paintball gun – they’re called “markers” -- at the ready.
The 11-year-old Midlothian girl is a 20-month veteran of the war games that she used to just watch her father, Dave Smith, play.
“My dad did it and he said it was fine so I tried it,” she said. “It was fun. Everyone told me getting hit with a paintball hurts, but it doesn’t hurt – it just kind of shocks.”
The park uses only soft paintballs, which can be purchased for $49.95 for a case of 2,000, usually enough to last all day, Kenner said. The colored liquid in the paintball isn’t paint. “They are environmentally safe,” she said. “You can even eat one and it won’t do anything to you. Safety is always No. 1.”
The tree-shaded battlefields have names like Fort Vern, dotted with inflatable bunkers where shooters can find shelter, and Ghost Town, which has rows of deteriorating mock building facades. Two of the fields have the fuselages of a pair of two-seater airplanes plowed partly into the ground, sans wings.
The fields, which players call maps, are separated and contained by thin netting that prevents stray paintballs from leaving the battleground and striking an unsuspecting employee or spectator.
“No one else has netting to this extreme,” Dave Smith said.
At other parks, non-players also would have to wear face masks, he said. It’s another of those features that help tailor the park to families and make it, he declared, the best of the 20 to 30 parks he and his team, the Guardians, have visited.
Five of the six Smith family members were at the park that day: dad, who is a part-time referee; mom, Stephanie, a park volunteer; Jessica and two of her sisters. The park provides the best of both worlds, he said.
“It’s doing something I can enjoy being around,” Smith said. “It’s a family-friendly place.”
It’s the only paintball park in Mansfield, after the shuttering of the Hit and Run Paintball Park several years ago after flooding.
The Kenners’ park currently employs four full-time workers and 15 to 20 part-timers, using most on the weekends for parties and tournament play. Many youngsters serve as junior helpers, taking on minor duties such as washing off masks and vests and picking up trash, in exchange for paintballs and use of the rental guns and safety equipment.
Up to 200 players show up on the weekends, which Lynn Kenner considers a good number considering the newness of the park.
“It’s amazing to me how many people like paintball,” Kenner said, “because that really wasn’t my thing.”
Both of the Kenners were born in Chireno, a town of 400 in East Texas. They both graduated from Stephen F. Austin University, her with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, him with a master’s degree in physics. He went on to Texas A&M for a doctorate in physics.
Lynn Kenner earned a master’s degree while the couple lived in Alabama for several years. They returned in 1979, and she earned her education administration certificate from Texas Woman’s University in 1990.
She was a teacher in the Arlington district for 13 years.
“I’ve been in education all of my life,” she said “I always wanted to be a teacher. We just want to continue leading something for children, but we want to be a Christian concept.”
She left public school teaching in 1999 to found Children’s University, a private school on Park Springs Road in Arlington, and operated it for 18 years before selling it.
The Kenners’ next adventure came in 2010, when they and Rogers created a philanthropy program for young children, which they tested at the two Pantego Christian Schools in Pantego and Arlington. The program, which will be continued at the new park, assigns projects and exercises to kids that promote the value of thinking of others, she said. Those include planning parties at nursing homes, baking doggie treats for an animal shelter and making backpacks for kids going into foster homes.
“We’re trying to guide children into giving back and having empathy,” she said.
The Kenners’ dream started out smaller – just 23 acres for a Christian camp on the east side of the property, along with a much smaller paintball area.
But the plans were delayed after Tarrant Regional Water District notified the couple about a year ago of plans to extend a 9-foot-wide water pipeline through the east side of the property, taking a 150-foot swath of right-of-way through deep woods.
The Tarrant district and Dallas Water Utilities are partners in the $2.3 billion project, which will begin laying 150 miles of pipe next year to connect to Cedar Creek Lake and Richland Chambers Lake by 2020 and to Lake Palestine around 2030, said Brian Murnahan, a spokesman for the Integrated Pipeline Project.
“It will be a couple of years before it gets to the Mansfield area,” Murnahan said. “It’s a long-term project. People are going to hear about it.”
The pipeline prompted the Kenners to buy more land and order a complete architectural redesign that relocated all of the planned amenities, Vernon Kenner said.
“If we had known about the pipeline, we wouldn’t have bought the property,” he said. “We had to regroup entirely.”
The result was a bigger and better park, his wife said.
“I just see right now that it’s going to be better than we ever dreamed,” she said. “We’re trying to take a negative and make it positive. It’s not in our nature to let things like that stop us.”