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Pixie Woods: Stockton’s magical forest still enchanting after all these years

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Posted: Friday, July 6, 2012 7:25 am

In its own little corner of Stockton is a whimsical wonderland, where children leap across bridges and dart through tunnels. There are tucked-away areas, where giant red mushrooms provide shade in a gnome village and geese bathe in a lagoon beside bobbing aliens that are targets for people behind water cannons on the dock.

Children in wet swimsuits are loud with laughter, and their bare feet pound against the cement as they dogde spurts of water streaming from the spiraling green dragon on a hot afternoon.

It is quiet aboard the Pixie Queen II as it glides along the still waters. The Pixie Woods Express train passes by dinosaurs and pirates along the pond.

Welcome to Pixie Woods. It is a place of imagination. A place for community.

A straight 15-minute shot down Highway 5 from Lodi, Pixie Woods is a daytime summer destination, where children can live out their dream adventures on play structures and rides, while parents relax in the shade of towering, decades-old trees.

The children’s amusement park was created to be a magical enchanted forest. Within it, though, you’ll discover worlds that include an “Alice in Wonderland” party room with a giant tree popping through the center, a Junior Firefighter’s Bootcamp area with an original fire truck, Neptune’s Lunar Landing, Frontier Village with wagon wheel benches and miner’s cove, a merry-go-round or two and the Yum Yum House, where you can feast on treats and stay hydrated.

It is a place that can be as entertaining for adults as it is for children.

“When you come through the rainbow gates, you become transformed into this magical forest,” said Yvonne Samson, one of the 20 volunteer board members who helps run the amusement park. “You look all around and it’s just like a different world.”

Walking through the park, past Hickory Dickory Clock and the bunny pin, it’s obvious Pixie Woods is not just a special place for the children running past, but for Samson, too. She knows the ins and outs of the park, and all of the history. The milk bottle hanging on Cowlamity Jane at McGregor’s Farm used to be a whiskey bottle. She knows all about the time Sonny and Cher had their daughter’s birthday part at Pixie Woods.

Once, she gave Margaret Kerry, the original Tinkerbell, a tour around the park. As they stood on the bridge, Kerry told her, “she knew why they called me the Big Pixie ... because my heart was bigger than the whole sum of me,” Samson recalls.  

Sampson started visiting the park when she was a kid. As an adult, she just couldn’t stay away.

Now, she has tried to turn everyone else into pixies, whether they are her friends or first-time visitors.

Josh Boatright watches his son, Jayden, 1, play with a steering wheel between play structures that resemble a burning house and a fire station. Boatright has been taking his son often since the park opened; it’s where he went as a kid.

“It’s my favorite place to bring the kids,” he said.

Pixie Woods was the brain child of a volunteer group in the early 1950s who went to the city with the idea of building a children’s park on the three and a half acres where the park sits now.

A proposition was made: If the volunteer group could raise $3,500 for the project, Pixie Woods could become a reality. For the group, it was a done deal. They raised the money and researched the park by taking pages of notes at other parks, like Fairyland in Oakland.

Stockton’s own Pixie Woods opened in 1955, and the first admission was only 10 cents.

In the early days, Pixie Woods was home to birds, horses, sheep, monkeys and even seals. Children used to be able to buy live bait at the bait shop and fish in the lagoon.

Over the years, the park has been renovated, but so much remains the same, with its charming retro look, bright colors and classic themes. The old fire truck in Junior Fire Fighter Bootcamp area has been updated with tires filled with gel so they don’t go flat. Neptune’s Lunar Landing, which was once a pool for the Pixie Woods seals, has had to be renovated to a play area, complete with slides and ladders.

The park is run by a combination of volunteers and the city, though it needs even more help.

Samson says the park was built on community, and it needs comity to keep going. The tasks vary, from maintenance or cleaning to services to help solve the lagoon’s high-phosphorus level that keeps the water bright green.

Though it takes countless hours of work behind the scenes, when visitors walk through those entrance gates, Pixie Woods is simply a getaway. A place to be wooed by beautiful birds and fountains. A place to relax under a shade tree on a painted bench. A place to be a kid again.

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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