Since 2018, Snelling has been home to one of the most popular summer attractions in the 209 region with the Splash-N-Dash inflatable waterpark along Lake McSwain. The waterpark is more than 125 thousand square feet and features a modular system of more than 80 inflatables on the lake for those young and old to enjoy.
The mind behind the Splash-N-Dash is Mary Gathman-Kent, who explained that the idea for an inflatable waterpark stemmed from seeing similar attractions in other countries.
“I was looking online and I happened to stumble across a picture of an inflatable waterpark in Australia,” she said. “I was amazed by it and wondered if there was anything similar in the United States.”
Gathman-Kent’s research revealed that there were only about three others in the country. It was then that she and her husband, Jalance Kent, decided to take the leap of making the largest inflatable waterpark in North America.
Though the two had the vision, finding the perfect location was not the easiest of tasks. At the time, the family found themselves living in Fresno after Kent, who was serving in the Air Force, was transferred to the city. She first thought of starting her business on Shaver Lake, but a lack of parking and the constant fluctuation of water levels ruled it out. She then set her sights on Millerton Lake, but quickly discovered similar issues with water levels.
“I got so frustrated because I have this business plan and I knew this was going to be great, but I couldn’t find a body of water to put it on,” Gathman-Kent said. “So, one morning I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and I just told my husband I’ll be back and I didn’t come back until 2:30 the next morning. I had visited like seven or eight lakes.”
One of the lakes she stumbled across was Lake McSwain.
“I just started researching and I picked McSwain. I found out that it was owned by Merced Irrigation District, who also owned the dam. By federal law, they have to offer parks and recreation, so I took my business plan to the Board of Directors,” she explained.
Her plan was approved, and the family hasn’t turned back since.
Every year, they try to add something new to the park. Last year, they added the Big Girl. The Big Girl has three slides on it and two jumping platforms and a rock wall. This year, they added the Big Boy, which has two slides that accommodate four people at a time. It also has a 33-foot-long launching blob on it. They also implemented dash tracks this year, which are two identical, 155-foot-long relay race strips.
In the park’s near five years of existence, they have welcomed over 20,000 different guests, according to their official database.
Even as the number of visitors has steadily increased over the years, the moments that continue to stand out most to Gathman-Kent were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a part of Mariposa County, which had some of the fewest coronavirus cases in the entire state of California, they were able to remain open throughout 2020, which she feels made a positive impact in the community.
“What made me really happy is that our park became a central meeting point,” she said. “We had so many family reunions in 2020. There’s been a lot of joy, which makes me so proud. We’re just so lucky and so blessed to have a county support us, the owners of the lake support us and the people support us.”
While the surrounding community has shown strong support for the waterpark, so has a number of celebrities and influencers.
In the past year alone, the park has seen public figures like musician Pink, basketball YouTuber Jesser, YouTube and music group Shiloh & Bros, and Tik Toker Alex Ojeda visit the park.
“I still have to pinch myself sometimes,” Gathman-Kent said. “For people to come to our park from all around the world is insane. It’s kind of unbelievable and I’m so grateful for it all.”
Splash-N-Dash is open seven days a week from the first weekend of June through the third week of August every year. On Friday and Saturday nights, the park blows up their 25-foot inflatable screen to show movies on the beach. Once local schools are back in session, they are only open on the weekends through Labor Day, which marks the end of their season.
To go on the inflatables, attendees must be 7-years-old, at least 45” tall and a good swimmer. Those younger than 7 can still get in on the fun within the designated Lil’ Splash zone. Aqua shoes are required while in the water and are available for purchase at the park.
To purchase tickets, make reservations or to find out more about Splash-N-Dash, head to www.mysplashndash.com.