Waterparks, workshops fit for summer

It’s time to begin making summer vacation plans. Need fresh ideas? We are happy to assist.

The waterpark wars continue in the Wisconsin Dells. Who has the biggest, the best, the most imaginative? There are many ways to measure success, both indoors and out.

Kalahari Waterpark Resort, which has an African theme, introduces two new components this weekend – one mild, the other wild. The resort says it now has the nation’s largest lazy river that is manmade. It also has Surfari, a new surfing ride for extreme sports enthusiasts.

“Riders can step up to a boogie board and experience an authentic wave-ripping ride in the heart of the Midwest,” Kalahari says of Surfari, which involves the blasting of 50,000 gallons of water per minute.

For more about the resort, go to www.kalahariresort.com. For more about the area, go to www.wisdells.com.

How long with the Dells be the king in this category? Chuck Lennon, spokesman for the Minnesota tourism department, advises water lovers to keep an eye on the Twin Cities, where huge waterpark developments are being pursued, particularly next to Mall of America.

It has been more than 40 years since a group of writers asked Robert Gard, the Wisconsin Idea advocate, to establish a summer program of inspiration and training. What began as a two-week program for 40 students and six teachers has since become the annual School of the Arts at Rhinelander.

It is one week of workshops to foster creativity in adults. This year it’s July 26-30 and there are more than 75 topics. About 350 students registered last year.

Where else can you dabble in blacksmithing, sand carving, mystery writing and/or adventure photography? When I attended a few years ago, I signed up for three classes that had to do with dance, creative thinking and writing. There still was plenty of time to explore the Rhinelander area, get together with friends, absorb Northwoods isolation.

So it was a great experience, and in a tranquil setting. There is as much – or little – time for goofing off, studying intensely or socializing as you’d like. Classes contain beginners as well as experts; the typical age range is 40 to 80. College credits, and continuing education credits, are possible for serious students.

Classes are at a junior high school; fees are $139 to $329, depending upon the number of classes and class length. Some also have a fee for materials. Lodging and meals are not included; class size is limited. For more, go to www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/soa or call (608) 263-3494.

Soon the secret will be out – escape artist Houdini’s secret, that is. The Outagamie County Historical Society in Appleton has revamped and expanded its exhibit about this native son.

“A.K.A. Houdini” opens June 2, and there is a bit of controversy associated with it. Museum visitors will be able to learn the secret to Metamorphosis, one of Houdini’s illusions, in which he escapes from handcuffs. That’s just one hands-on way to learn more about the magician.

But the divulging of this information has upset modern-day magicians, including the Houdini Club of Wisconsin. They don’t want magicians’ secrets spread around; the historical society responds that the information already is available on the Internet and elsewhere.

For more, go to www.foxvalleyhistory.org or call (920) 735-9370.

One of my best quick getaways this month was to Wausau, where I sat in a downtown park and heard church bells chime around me at 6 p.m. It was a grand chorus that involved two or three denominations, one after another, only to be followed by the striking wail of a train whistle.

The downtown contains several huge and magnificent churches, each showcasing a different type of stone and/or architecture.

The only thing that I liked better was the “Tools as Art” exhibit, on until June 20 at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. Common tools take on a wide assortment of moods, from playful to plaintive, comical to contemplative.

Be it a glass hammer and nails, a spiral of welded wrenches or a psychedelic pattern coming from a paint can, there are messages and combinations to make anybody – adult or child – do a double-take.

The 65 works on display are among the 375-plus owned by the late John Hechinger, an East Coast man who was a giant in the hardware industry.

For more about the exhibit, and the highly respected bird art museum that houses it, go to www.lywam.org or call (715) 845-7010. The museum’s sculpture garden is particularly gorgeous, even on a soggy day,

You may not have driven it, but everybody seems to know about Route 66, the meandering road that links Chicago and Los Angeles. Interstates have all but crowded out the historic highway, but its reputation lives on because of the towns along the way that refuse to let the route be forgotten.

Now work has begun to raise the profile of another highway, U.S. 51, which links Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana to Lake Superior in Wisconsin. People in six states are trying to coordinate and enhance tourist attractions that are along or near this road.

It perhaps would be the only project that could link polka to Delta blues, or the works of Frank Lloyd Wright to those of Elvis. We’ll fill you in as we learn more, and we invite you to fill us in.

Last, here is a new book to keep the kids amused during instate roadtrips: Exploring America’s Highways: Wisconsin Trip Trivia ($19.95, T.O.N.E. Publishing) by Michael Heim of Minnesota.

It’s a way to teach state history, explain how towns got named and pass on notable trivia. Examples: Pittsville is the geographic center of Wisconsin. Al Ringling held his first circus tent show in Brodhead. Actor Harrison Ford attended Ripon College.