Indianapolis: Thunder Island Water Park

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What was once a beloved suburban Indianapolis recreation destination isn’t much more than a peaceful set of astroturf-lined trails through the woods today, weaving between rainwater pools overlooked by one last pair of crumbling concrete inner tube water slides.

The parking lot is so overgrown, full-grown trees burst through holes in the pavement.   Half of a For Sale sign embellishes the former entrance, and fragments of a mini golf course are scattered among the trees, along with a few shredded husks of inner tubes.  Only one building remains barely standing.

The park opened in Westfield, Indiana in 1975, and appears to have been fondly remembered by its visitors, according to the few Reddit and Facebook comments available.  There isn’t much out there about the its past, but Youtube offers a couple glimpses into what it used to look like.

Though the title of this commercial video claims it was filmed in 1994, the dates don’t really line up with the park’s closure and it is probably a few years older.  A scene in a movie called Freeze Frame with Shannen Doherty was also filmed there in 1989, sending its villain on a ride down a Thunder Island water slide.  The following video is just a cam at a VHS copy of the movie, but it might be worth renting just to see the details.

Despite longstanding and widespread rumors among the community, the park’s closure was due to financial reasons and not to to a guest’s death on one of the slides.  On small business promotion website manta.com, a relic entry linking to the park’s long-dead website lists a Michael Maio as the president of Thunder Island (let’s just pause for a moment to take in and appreciate that title), and someone in Indianapolis named Michael Maio, featured in this 1993 article, was busted and fined that year for insider trading.  So that probably had a lot to do with it.

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Again, I don’t know.  My evidence is flimsy, but so was everyone’s who said someone died on a slide, and that’s been the popular theory.

5 thoughts on “Indianapolis: Thunder Island Water Park

  1. Is it just me, or is that submerged inner tube extra-creepy? And how cool that you were unable to find old footage; it’s fascinating to see it in its heyday and to contemplate how (comparatively) quickly nature has reclaimed this bit of land. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe crowds would improve the effect, but it seems to have been a strange, sad place even in what could be called its heyday. It might have become an wildlife sanctuary like one of the former reservoirs around here, unless the water is still full of chemicals. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember two of my aunts taking me there in the summer of 1991. I even got a souvenir tank top that said “Thunder Island University: Water, Fun, Sun”. My memories of it are not detailed beyond the fun I had. Sometimes I thought maybe I had not remembered the name correctly. When I would bring it up with my relatives in central Indiana there always seemed to be a feeling that no one knew what I was talking about. Glad to know that others have a memory of this place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have fond memories of Thunder Island! Growing up near Whitestown, this place was just a straight shot east on State Rd 32 from us. My dad first took me there when I was 7-8 years old. if my memory serves me correct, it was called “3M ______” and merely consisted of batting cages and a driving range. Then, little by little, they added go karts, bumper boats, pools, water slides, etc. It was a fun, clean little place to go in the summer and I always look for it even now when traveling on US 31.

    Liked by 1 person

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