WELLSVILLE — On a hot summer afternoon, the Hess family, clad in their swimsuits, made their way up the hill for another run on Jed Clark’s waterslide.
Nathan, the dad, suggested that the entire family go down the slick surface, which is said to get participants up to 20 miles per hour, in a “train,” one person connected to the other. But this time, they would do it going backwards.
A few seconds after getting into position they slid down the slippery track and the mom, Lynette, let out a scream.
“Oh my God!” she said.
“This is awesome!” said one of her children.
The dropoff is so steep that the only time one could see the family again was when they reached the bottom of the slide.
The homemade water slide is the creation of Clark, a farmer who has been entertaining families from all over for almost 20 years with an assortment of activities on the multi-acre farm property that he shares with his brother, Paul. Clark has two slides — dubbed by fans as “the redneck waterslide” — a corn maze, and, for Halloween, a haunted trail.
“We want people to come on to our land and have fun — and they do,” Clark said. “It wasn’t us sitting down saying what can we do to make more money? It was more like they (the slides and maze) just sort of came about — and call it luck, because people liked them.”
Clark said that his approach to serving the public hasn’t really changed. He has figured out ways to redraw the corn maze into different designs (one year he made a train). He has the slides that get slippery just by the use of a garden hose — with signs to warn people of the dangers.
“It’s going to stay redneck, we’ll never be Lagoon,” said Clark, referring to the amusement ride park in Farmington off of I-15. “All of the people in the valley call it that (redneck waterslide) because most people don’t wear a swimsuit, you get a little bit dirty. There’s no professionalism — it’s totally farmer.”
In 1995, Clark, a roofer in Salt Lake City, came to Cache Valley at the invitation of his brother, Paul, who was sod farming in North Logan.
“He said, ‘come up here and make a lot of money,’ but we came up here right as prices of land were starting to skyrocket,” he said.
Still, Clark purchased several acres of land over time.
“All of them were prices where you can’t make a living farming and also pay those prices off,” Clark said. “It’s a miracle. If we didn’t have the slides and the corn maze we wouldn’t have made it because in 2008 the bottom dropped out with housing. We look at that as being real fortunate.”
The corn maze concept came about after a nearby dairy went bankrupt. The Clarks had 30 acres of corn and didn’t know what to do with it.
The slides came about because Clark noticed he could take advantage of the steep hills on his property.
“I thought it would be fun to slide down the hill, you know,” Clark said. “It took quite a while to figure out how to make it all work, and then people started demanding that they come and use our slide. We had to get porta potties, we had to have parking.”
He laughed that, “at first we had so many people, people were getting mad at us. We raised prices and that lowered the number of people.”
The slides are a hit with a number of groups, including LDS youth and various family reunions, the Wellsville farmer said.
“That’s the fun part: You can have a dad and three kids all go down together and then they have to run up the hill — that’s a hidden benefit,” he said. “It’s fun and they say ‘we gotta go again.’ It’s addicting; it’s just a blast to go down and then they want to go faster and further.”
One of the biggest issues that has come into play for Clark’s business is liability insurance — protection for him when other people get hurt. Clark believes this delicate issue is the reason why more farmers aren’t letting their land be readily available to the public.
“Farmers are darned if they do and darned if they don’t — they could say I’ll do a camp-out, but if someone gets hurt, the farmer gets sued. Everyone wants you to pay their medical bill,” he said. “We’ve already had an incident here where someone gets hurt and they say, ‘we want you to pay for it.’ That’s why I say we’ve got insurance now, but if we had the million-dollar lawsuit we would no longer get insured, and we’d be out of business. It’s a little scary that way.”
To help, Clark has signs out in both the maze and slides warning people of the dangers behind their actions.
But sometimes, people don’t listen. Many young kids apparently like to slide down headfirst — something most professional water parks will restrict to avoid back and neck injuries.
“We try to help people not get hurt. Some kids ... do it right and left, they don’t get it, they get done and lay there and say ‘that was fun,’ but you can get hurt,” Clark said. “We could stand down there and police them, but that’s one of the things they like — to come down here and do their own thing.”
Indeed, that is the draw of the park, according to Nathan Hess, of Seattle, who came to enjoy Clark’s slide while in town visiting family.
“It’s a great family place, and we can do our own thing,” Hess said.
At the same time Clark is making a profit off of his amusement activities, he is concerned about the modern farmer, having seen a few economic downturns.
“It’s a tough time for farmers — if all they want to do is farm, they better not have any debt, because they’re in trouble,” he said. “Most of them are (own small farms), and have a second job. They farm almost as a hobby now.”
He continued, “You won’t see anyone saying ‘I just bought a farm’ — it doesn’t happen anymore. In Utah, no such thing as farm land, only land that can be commercialized or put into homes.”
Clark might be worried about the plight of the modern farmer, but he’s still having fun. Whenever he helps a few participants get traction on the slide, he thinks back to his childhood on a farm next to the Weber River. The kids would make a trolley or, after baling hay all day, float in tubes down the river.
Earlier this week, Clark’s property had the usual flow of children and families hosting barbecues and taking turns on the slides.
“You guys need a push?” Clark said to a few kids trying to make a train.
“Ya ready? Here you go!”