by Andrew Rybarczyk
We all love roller coasters. I'm pretty sure that if you are reading this blog that it also means that you love amusement parks as well. No one wants to see an amusement park close or a classic roller coaster torn down. Sometimes though we allow this passion to cloud our judgment and allow memories to influence the decisions we make today. I've heard and read some pretty heated discussions about what the fate of Conneaut Lake Park should be. After attending the park on Saturday, I sadly have to declare that I truly believe it is best to allow the park to close.
A few years back I can remember voting in the Pepsi Refresh Project to help find a way to save a classic roller coaster. Now, I didn't know much about the ride or even the park for that matter, I simply did not want to see a roller coaster with so much history just disappear. After winning $50,000, I thought that the coaster would be in good hands and have a chance at sticking around for generations to come. However, this was not the case.
Much has been discussed as of late about Conneaut Lake Park with the financial situation worsening by the day. Last weekend, I decided to take a trip out to the park to experience it myself and get my first and presumably last ride on Blue Streak. I did not have high expectations for the park given many of the stories I've heard coming out of the park over the last few months, but when I got there it was worse than I could have imagined. Upon arriving an hour after the scheduled opening time, the weather was a bit gloomy and misty. A very light rain had fallen as we drove into the area, but behind it was sunny skies for miles. We arrived and found a near ghost town. A few workers were walking around seemingly packing up for the day. I asked one if the park was open to which she replied that they were closed for "weather" and "lack of attendance." To say I was upset would be an understatement. The hours were clearly listed on the website. Numerous calls went unanswered both during the week and day of the trip to try to decipher the exact operating schedule. To top it off, we had driven an extra 1.5 hours to attend the park. She did say though that they will be reopening the next day to which I replied that I would never be coming back. After the exchange, I decided to walk around the shuttered park and found a number of families milling about trying to figure out what to do for the day now that their plans had been dashed. I find it absolutely ridiculous that a business who is in such dire straits would close with paying customers in park. Even if that is not financially possible, a business should be able to figure out what their operating hours are and be able to communicate those to their patrons. To blame the weather is equally ridiculous because anyone with a smart phone could easily see that within twenty minutes the gloomy skies would open up into a bright and sunny day. From the reports I've heard the park has remained open with only a few guests present as well. My final conclusion is that the park has either given up or simply does not care.
The issue of not caring is also one that I've seen expressed from numerous people visiting the park throughout this season. Operating hours that are shifting is just one example. Bad attitudes and lack of gratitude to me is inexcusable. Once again, if a park is in such dire need, they should making a much greater effort to try to get people not only to come but to return. This issue of caring can also be seen in the condition that the park is in. Rides that haven't been operated in years litter the area such as a few flat rides and their Toboggan coaster. These rides should have been removed, hidden or scrapped long ago. What patron wants to walk a midway and see skeletons of formers rides that are rusting out? General maintenance also seemed to be poor overall. Very few signs directed people where to park or where to go. I felt that the operators of the park wanted to keep me out rather than invite me in every way imaginable. Its disappointing especially since this same park begs for money at every turn to try to keep itself alive.
Conneaut's current problem stems from back taxes that total over $900,000. We also don't know how many more creditors are out there that are also owed money. The local governing bodies want to confiscate the property and sell it off to recoup some of these lost monies. Taxes in general are paid to support the public good. These back taxes could be going to a number of different places including the financially strapped school districts that populate the same area. With this in mind, my own experience this weekend, and the experiences of many others throughout the year, I believe it best if we as coaster enthusiast simply stopped pushing to keep this park open. First, it is unlikely that any financial plan the park comes up with will actually save the park. Even after filing chapter 11 bankruptcy, the park may alleviate its debt but would have no money to actually fix the park. Getting new credit would be extremely difficult and it's safe to say that its current attendance issues will not miraculously be changed because of less debt. It may be able to stay open for a few more season but a very real possibility is that it will close soon after. It may even create a hostile environment towards the park from those who believe the government should be able to recoup some of its losses right away with a sheriff's sale.
It also makes enthusiasts look bad as well. By heavily supporting the park and pushing for it to remain open, many are only looking at one side. In doing so, it makes us look almost foolish. Ignoring the real financial issues that plague this park and why they are there to begin with makes us look bad. Every time we put up a status about "saving the park" and a new person goes to check it out and has an unfavorable experience, it hurts our credibility. It also makes it look as if we are insensitive to the needs of the community to who almost one million dollars is owed. In short, Conneaut does not deserve our support. However, coaster enthusiasts are some of the most genuine people I've ever met. Our efforts and money can go to saving rides and parks that truly deserve our support. Go spend your time and money at another park who appreciates it. There are plenty of parks out there who have aging rides or just simply need the money for upkeep or additions.
Conneaut's problem is that they are always looking for the next way to stay open tomorrow. Fundraising drives, reality TV shows, and bankruptcy are just a few, but the real issue is that they aren't concerned about today. Giving guests a memorable day today will bring them back tomorrow or in the future. Unfortunately, it is quite clear to me that under the current management, the sun will soon fail to rise on the tomorrow that the park is always looking for.