Three Oaks wakeboard park expected to be major draw

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CRYSTAL LAKE – Charlie Copley dreamed of starting a wakeboard park on Crystal Lake since he first took up the sport on the same lake in the early 90s.

That dream will not come to fruition because Copley found an even better area in his hometown to open one of only about 20 such parks in the country at Three Oaks Recreation Area.

Now, Copley is months away from breaking ground on a 32-acre cable wakeboard park that could become a major regional destination.

“There were only four or five of these big cable systems about four years ago when the city started with Three Oaks Recreation Area,” Copley said. “That’s when I thought ‘wow, there could be so much potential.’”

Cable wakeboard parks have become a staple in Europe but are just starting to gain popularity in the U.S., Copley said. Parks feature main courses of five to six towers connected by motorized cables at the top that pull riders along the course where jumps and obstacles are located.

There also are two-tower systems that most parks have where the rider is pulled on a straight line so beginners can get familiar with the feel. Copley’s park at Three Oaks Recreation Area will feature both.

The parks are an evolution from the early days of wakeboarding when riders were pulled by motor boats. Copley said the cost and access for boats prevented many people from trying the sport.

“To go out and buy a boat is astronomical so that really limited a lot of people that may have wanted to try it but couldn’t do it financially,” Copley said. “These parks are much more accessible and fun.”

The park will include a full restaurant and patio area for dining and viewing. A new 80-space parking lot will also be constructed near the north end of the lake where the park will be located.

Three designs for the park, ranging in cost from $4.87 million to $5.6 million, were presented last summer to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Proposed amenities include a stage, hot tub, fire pit, FlowRider wave simulator, and ropes course, according to plans presented to the commission. The wakeboard facility would be on the North Lake, separate from city-built swimming beach, recreation area and marina on the much larger South Lake.

Under terms of a proposed agreement, the city would let Copley’s company use the land for up to 20 years in exchange for 5 percent of the gross revenues as rent. The private company would be responsible for the capital construction costs.

Copley said the park will be a destination that includes live music events, fundraisers and other community outreach to bring together the locals and people from out of town.

“If it wasn’t for open-minded people in office we have right now who are willing to work with businesses I don’t think we could’ve ever had this,” Copley said. “My hats are off to them.”

For those who have never tried wakeboarding or are intimidated by the flips and tricks they see advanced riders perform, Copley said it would not take long for the skeptics to enjoy the activity.

He said there are plenty of safety factors in place such as helmets, life jackets and instructions each rider must receive before riding and there are courses for all skill levels. Should anyone fall during a ride, floating docks are close by to swim to.

It also is a great spectator sport for those who want to enjoy the patio and other parts of Three Oaks Recreation Area, he said.

“Me and my wife grew up here and our parents have been in Crystal Lake a long time,” he said. “It’s a great community with great people that have an active and healthy lifestyle.”

Plans are being developed to provide camps, lessons and other activities at the park, he said. Pricing packages still are being discussed but he said there likely would be two-hour packages between $20 and $25, three-hour packages in the $30 range and all-day and season passes available.

He also plans to bring in some professional competitions.

Groundbreaking could occur at Three Oaks in June and the park should be ready to open in the spring of 2015.

“We’re just super excited to get this project going and we have a lot of great people behind it,” Copley said. “It’s going to be a real fun place.”