Aqua Jays improve Janesville's Traxler Park
Janesville's Rock Aqua Jays water ski team has been performing on the Rock River for 50 years.
JANESVILLE A brick building was the only structure standing in the late 1950s in the section of Traxler Park that would become home to the Rock Aqua Jays.
The building would become the group’s clubhouse, and the Aqua Jays would go on to improve Traxler Park, erect bleachers, plant trees and partner with the city.
Tom Presny, parks director, called the Aqua Jays “the original community service organization from the perspective of the parks.”
Before the Aqua Jays formed, swimmers used the brick building at Traxler Park. When Lions Beach opened, the swimmers left but the building stayed, said J.R. Wilson, a longtime Aqua Jay.
Today, the Aqua Jays store their equipment in the clubhouse. They rewired the building after the 2008 flood, removed the roof to replace the structure underneath and built a kitchen.
When the city put in new public bathrooms, the club paid to extend the sewer lines to the clubhouse. The building had been served by a septic system.
The Traxler Park bleachers also were a major club investment.
At first, the Aqua Jays hauled a few wooden bleachers over to Traxler Park from Monterey Stadium, Wilson said. They’d take them back in the fall. People brought lawn chairs to watch performances.
Later, flatbed semis and 30 guys hauled bleachers from Dawson Field, Aqua Jay Gerry Luiting said.
The Aqua Jays held a public fundraiser in the 1980s and built the Traxler Park bleachers, which can accommodate 5,000 people. The main sections are 20 rows high, and the smaller bleachers are 10 rows high.
The group two years ago used a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to build seating the handicapped. A new sidewalk was built, and some of the lower bleachers now are accessible to wheelchairs.
The 2008 flood ruined the stage, the bleachers and the railroad ties that prevented shoreline erosion.
The city received federal emergency money, and the club helped city workers put down a rubber surface and build a new stage.
The group and the city continue to work to prevent future flooding damage, Luiting said.
They installed concrete partitions and a drainage system along the riverfront so stormwater coursing across the park to the river doesn’t erode the shoreline.
“The engineering department for the city did a really nice job,” Luiting said.
The Aqua Jays hope to rebuild the dock, which sits on steel posts. When the water is lower, they plan to lift the 9-ton deck with a crane.
Members will convert the dock to be semi-floating and adjustable so they can raise it along with floodwaters.
The group also planted trees in the park to replace those ripped out by a big storm about six years ago, Wilson said.
“For a long time, we were the only ones really in the park,” Wilson said. “Now, through the city’s and our help, it’s become a very popular place.
“Because of us having the nationals, the city has continued to improve the park for the community and for ourselves,” he said.
The Aqua Jays paved the way for other groups who work with the city to improve parks and provide entertainment, Presny said.
The group and the city cooperated to improve traffic flow through the parking lot, for instance, Presny said. The city relocated boat-trailer parking so more spectators have better places to park.
“It’s been a very good working relationship,” Presny said.
The Aqua Jays are a “tremendous resource to the entire community” for organizing the city’s Fourth of July celebration and providing the fireworks. That saves the city money, Presny said.
“I just have nothing but glowing thoughts about the Rock Aqua Jays and what they mean to Janesville, both in terms of care of the park as well as image,” Presny said.
“As I travel or talk to people from other communities, they often refer to the Rock Aqua Jays and the very positive image they present to the community.”