Since the turn of the century, the Atascadero Lake Park has been known as a pleasant place to take a stroll with your family, play in the park or soak in the perfect Central Coast summer evenings while melodic tunes fill the air. But, did you know that it used to be a place you could bring your ski boat and shred the wake?
The Atascadero Lake, which ranges approximately 30.5 acres and holds over 68 million gallons of water when full, has always been a prominent feature of the City since founder E.G. Lewis purchased the land on June 6, 1913. Lewis referred to the small lake that is filled by rain runoff as the Jewel Of Atascadero.
In fact, before the town’s purchase in 1913, the lake, as well as other areas of Atascadero, were used as a military training facility for the United States Government for almost 10 years, and it was the US Army that built the original dam.
Lewis dug out the lake to enlarge it, but to this day, it is only 13 feet at its the deepest point when full. Over the years, the lake has been worked on during dry periods. According to L.W. Allan’s book “Atascadero The vision of one — the work of many,” San Luis Obispo County was able to get heavy machinery into the lake bottom in 1946. It removed much of the rich topsoil that had flowed into the lake over the years.
The County had another chance to work on the bottom of the lake in the 1960s. However, this time, rather than hauling the soil out of the lake, they decided to move the earth to the south end, which has created the island we see today.
In the 1920s and 1930s, a scaled-down windmill and lighthouse were stationed on the lakeside before the original pavilion was built. For years, the old pavilion served as a place for dances, roller skating, exercise classes, and birthdays until 1987 when it was declared unsafe for use. The new pavilion was built in 1990 and finished in 1992.
Atascadero has many fun facts but perhaps none as delightful as the one behind a large donor toward the new pavilion. According to Allan’s text, Warner Bros. Studio donated $5,000 toward the construction costs while they were in town filming a movie with Steve Martin titled, “My Blue Heaven.”
The Lake was also the setting of many Fourth of July celebrations that included speed boats, water skiing, swimming, and firework displays that brought thousands down huddled by the water’s edge at sundown. Eventually, speed boats stopped being allowed in the early 1960s, and swimming was outlawed in the 1990s when the City Council voted to end the aquatic activity due to safety concerns. The firework shows were banned shortly after the city’s incorporation in 1979.
For some time in the 1990s and early 2000s, the City of Atascadero moved away from the Lake, and it faded away as the centerpiece of the City before bouncing back in recent years.
In 2013, the Friends of the Atascadero Lake, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing and maintaining the lake, was founded. Their passion and zeal for the iconic, affectionately named “Mudhole” resonated with the local community and City. Eventually, they and the City acquired a piece of land in 2015 and dug the well that still feeds the lake.
If you ask around Atascadero, you can still find some residents that first learned to water ski on the lake on July and August nights. If you are lucky enough to find one, ask them about their experience and watch their face come alive with warm and happy memories.
While residents can no longer swim, the Atascadero Lake continues to inspire joy and positivity. Just two weeks ago, a local person started a snake of painted rocks to spread cheer and optimism to those walking the popular banks. The snake has grown and now has over 100 rocks from loving and creative community members in the days since.