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Keeping cool in the Tri-Valley

Residents look to the water to beat the summer heat

Leo Nichols, 3, concentrates on a spout of water at one of Val Vista Park's water features in Pleasanton to keep cool earlier this summer. (Photo by Erika Alvero)

Temperatures have been inconsistent early this summer, vacillating dramatically from triple-digits down to breezy 60s.

But lately in the Tri-Valley, they've been heating up again, driving residents to seek places to cool off, like malls, libraries, movie theaters or stores.

Grace Nichols, a San Ramon resident with two sons, has spent a lot of time this summer traveling around to seek solace from the sun, from indoor malls to Target to the movie theater.

"Basically any place with air conditioning," she said.

But for the true, time-tested way to escape the heat, look to the water. Tri-Valley residents have many different options at their disposal, from parks with water features to large-scale aquatic centers to beaches.

Parks with water features

As temperatures start to cross into triple-digit territory, swarms of children flock to Val Vista, a park alongside the Interstate 680 highway and bordered by Stoneridge Drive and West Las Positas Boulevard.

The park features a climbing wall, playgrounds, and more importantly, giant water apparatuses. Water blossoms out of a tall metal sunflower and squirts like toothbrush bristles from a blue pole.

Val Vista is the favorite of Nichols and her two sons Leo, 3, and Miles, 1-1/2. Even though it's by a sewage plant. "We call it Stinky Park," Nichols laughed.

"We spend a lot of time at this one," she added. It's not as crowded as a new one that opened nearer to their home, and the shade offers a welcome respite from the sun.

"And there's a Toni Morrison quote," she said, pointing at a low wall encircling some climbing rocks, with words etched into the cement. "All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was."

"That just sold me," Nichols said.

It's one of several local parks with water features. The Tennis and Community Center Park, also in Pleasanton, and Shannon Park, Emerald Glen Park and Devany Square in Dublin all have similar components, as do San Ramon Central Park, Rancho San Ramon Park, Sycamore Valley Park in Danville and Hap Magee Ranch Park, also in Danville.

Susan Andrade-Wax, director of Pleasanton's community services department, says that these "splash pads" offer an enjoyable space for all generations.

"While they offer some obvious benefits and generate instant excitement, they require little to no standing water (and therefore no big safety issues)," she wrote in an email. "For many they represent an evolution from a bygone era where children 'ran through the sprinklers' in their own backyards."

She added that the water used "is recirculated through a filtration system where it is treated and sanitized making it much more safe for participants."

Aquatic centers

More traditional pools and aquatic centers also continue to be heavily-trafficked.

Pleasanton residents visit the Dolores Bengtson Aquatic Center, located in the midst of the Amador Valley Community Park, for classes, lap swimming and splashing around in the pool. Many teens get their first jobs as life guards at the center -- which sometimes, can turn into a more permanent career later on, said Tracy Newman, recreation supervisor at the center, who started as a lifeguard there as a high-schooler herself.

"It's such a wide range of ages you're overseeing and learning to work with that some of them became preschool teachers, high school teachers, nurses, and then some of these guys have told me they want to become doctors," Newman said. "So you have that whole medical aspect that you get to start learning as a lifeguard as well."

With high heat comes extra precautions that guests need to take, like staying hydrated and wearing sun protection.

"That's one of the reasons during the recreational swim time, we put in a break so kids get out of the water and actually re-apply sunblock," Newman said.

It's also a favorite spot for summer camps like the Hearst Elementary Kids Club, a Pleasanton Unified School District program.

It's a year-round program, but in the summer, the children stay with the program all day, rather than just before and after school. And there are plenty of opportunities to get in the water, says the program director Roxanne Villanueva and summer aide Cameron Freeman, playing in blow-up pools, having water balloon fights, running through water sprinklers or going out for ice cream.

The camp also takes a field trip to the pool every Thursday.

Their favorite parts of summer? "Getting to be a kid again," Freeman said. A student at San Francisco State and graduate of Pleasanton schools himself, it's his second year working with the Kids Club.

Seven-year-old Dominic Whitaker said his favorite summer pastime was "going swimming" -- more specifically, "doing cannonballs." But for 6-year-old Tara Nazari, the best part is "getting ice cream" at Icicles, especially Oreo flavor.

The pool is open for recreational swim from 1:30-4:45 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and between 1 and 5 p.m. on weekends.

The Tri-Valley also has a new water park in town: The Wave, located on the edge of Emerald Glen Park in Dublin.

After opening Memorial Day weekend, the 31,000-square foot, boardwalk-themed park owned by the city of Dublin has attracted a lot of interest from nearby residents -- though it got off to a rocky start when a young boy was thrown off the Emerald Plunge slide on opening day, an incident still under investigation.

Still, a few weekends ago, the park saw almost 1,500 attendees on one day, a record high in Dublin aquatic history, says Damian Sandholm, recreation supervisor for the parks and community services department in Dublin.

With a colorful "Splash Zone," six-waterslide tower and sports pool, the park attracts all ages, said Sandholm.

"My favorite part is that we have enough amenities for the whole family," he added.

Food Truck Mafia provides different concessions every day, from burgers to Mexican and Chinese food. And umbrellas offer much-needed shade, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"Shade is definitely a premium," laughed Sandholm.

Up alongside California High School and Montevideo Drive, the San Ramon Olympic Pool and Aquatic Center offers a heat escape for the Tri-Valley's more northern residents. The center also has a splash zone for kids, a water slide, a high dive and regular diving board, lap lanes and an inflatable obstacle course crossing one of the pools.

Pleasanton resident Veronica Aguilar, fulfilling her "grandmotherly duties" during a hot day earlier this month, spent the whole day at the San Ramon water park with her granddaughters, Mackenzie, 7, and Madison, 10 -- "trying to get out of the house!" Aguilar said.

She's seen the aquatic center grow over the years, and was excited to see the newly added obstacle course and water slide.

Mackenzie's favorite part? "Everything!" she said.

Parks with lakes

Still, others would rather enjoy a more natural setting to cool off in.

Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area is a 226-acre park located on the border of Pleasanton and Livermore, operated by the East Bay Regional Park District.

On the Monday before the Fourth of July holiday, families staked out umbrellas and tents along the beachfront of the 80-acre lake. Music blasted from speakers, the smell of cooking burgers wafting up from grills as children raced in and out of the water, with the occasional Canadian geese family trying to glide peacefully by.

Maira Hernandez was visiting her cousin in Hayward, and the trip had become a large family reunion of sorts.

"The water is warm for the kids," she said, especially compared to that in her home state of Oregon. The former Tracy resident tries to bring her family to California at least once a year, though she doesn't miss the summer heat.

Other than swimming at the designated swimming beach, visitors can fish if they have permits, boat in certain areas, picnic and birdwatch.

Del Valle Regional Park is another similar site, though a bit more remote. After driving along winding roads, through valleys and vineyards, visitors arrive at the 4,000-plus-acre Livermore park, where they can camp, picnic, and fish or swim at Lake Del Valle, a five-mile-long reservoir nestled at the foot of golden California hills.

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