Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Center

Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area, circa 1973

A “staycation” is more of a modern term that has entered the American vernacular, but as summer approaches and the itch to get out of the house starts, sometimes a staycation is just what one needs.

There are many places you can find locally to help recharge those summertime batteries, and if boating, fishing, water-skiing and camping are some of your favorite pastimes, you don’t need to look any further than the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area. Located between Bakersfield and Taft, the area offers all of the fun in the sun you could ask for.

Introduced by Assemblyman John Williamson in February 1965, the California State Assembly officially adopted Concurrent Resolution 54 on May 26, 1965. According to the May 27, 1965, Bakersfield Californian, the assemblyman assured readers that construction of the 2,000-acre Buena Vista area “would be developed immediately upon acquisition,” though it would take a few years for the project to actually break ground. In fact, there was a moment when it seemed that there might not be a Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area at all.

By January 1967, plans for the development had yet to be approved, but Lake Buena Vista Committee Chairman Vic Killingsworth assured readers of The Californian’s Jan. 27 issue, “October of this year will be a very critical time for us because plans for the recreation complex are scheduled for finalization at this time.”

Additionally, Killingsworth gave a conservative estimate of an opening date of 1970. The Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area was to include two lakes, 250 picnic sites, 112 camping sites and 9 miles of shoreline.

Although the plan was to have area open as soon as possible, that day did not happen until 1974. The project found itself in an uphill battle as it ran over budget and faced some infrastructure issues. Additionally, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to scrap the project in 1971. If not for the lone dissent and continued fight of Supervisor Vance Webb, the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area might have never come to fruition.

By 1974, the headline of a story in the April 18 Californian asked, “Will Kern’s tiger be white elephant?” But on April 30, 1974, the local press finally got a look at the almost-completed project and soon the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area was ready for the public’s enjoyment.

The response to the newest attraction was so positive that by April 25, 1975, The Californian reported that, according to County Parks and Recreation Director Frank Stramler: “Attendance for the past 12 months totaled nearly 400,000, and revenue amounted to $237,427. The resort is attracting overflow weekend crowds of up to 7,000 daily. Sunday is the biggest user-day.”

Of that, just April 1975 accounted for 45,489 visitors – an increase of 300 percent from the same month the previous year. It seemed that Buena Vista was a success.

Ten years later, on May 16, 1984, The Shafter Press ran an article encouraging readers to visit Buena Vista. The area had matured from the early days of “spindly seedling trees and sparse grass.” With Lake Webb for boating and water skiing, Lake Evans for fishing and sailing, and areas for picnicking, camping and playing, families were sure to find something to do for the day or longer.

The staycationers of Bakersfield and the surrounding communities could agree with The Shafter Press that, “We now have cause to be proud of this welcome leisure-time haven so near our own home town.” 

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