Visitors to Conneaut Lake Park could tell what kind of a day it was at the historic amusement park before they even exited their vehicles and applied sunscreen: busy.
“Full parking lots are always a good thing,” said Matt Briggs, the park’s general manager.
The crowds came for the first Second Sunday of the summer season, when wristbands that allow visitors to enjoy all of the rides are half price — just $5 instead of the usual $10. The half-price wristbands will also be available July 14 and Aug. 11, Briggs said. Passes for Splash City Water Park remain $10 through the season.
“I would like to do it for the water park, too,” Briggs said, surveying the crowded scene from near the entrance to the Otter Creek Adventure River, where dozens of people lazily bobbed along in tubes, “but I think it would overwhelm the water park.”
Cars in the parking lots, crowds in the water park and lines at the historic Blue Streak wooden roller coaster are good concerns to have as the park continues its recovery since Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the park’s operations, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014 and had its reorganization plan approved in federal court in 2016.
The ongoing recovery was evident from more than just the crowds. Since last year, the park has added a new 40-foot tall Ferris wheel as well as a pint-size version, bringing the total number of rides to 13 in both the main park and in Kiddieland, according to Briggs. Other improvements include several new roofs on buildings in the park, a new pavilion for birthday parties in Kiddieland, and new lockers and renovated changing rooms at Splash City.
“Days like today, you need them,” Briggs said of the changing rooms.
In addition, Briggs said, the park received “a lot of paint, a lot of volunteers and a lot of hard work,” in preparation for the season.
With things now in full swing given the timing of the first Second Sunday event days after the last day of school for local districts, the park is employing about 125 people, including the concession stands.
Keely Ritter, 18, who supervises lifeguards at the park, is one of those people. Ritter, who graduated from Conneaut Area Senior High on Thursday, is back this year for her third summer as a park employee before she begins college at the Venango campus of Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
“I just love it,” Ritter said of working at the park. “The people who come here are great.”
The Sunday crowd was the largest of the year so far, according to Ritter.
Some in the crowd were destined to be learning the same lesson Ritter herself did, despite her years of experience.
“I got burnt so bad our first week,” she said.
Partly cloudy skies and temperatures of about 80 degrees ruled for most of the afternoon, but it was clear that the Conneaut Lake Park forecast for Sunday called for sun-deprived torsos and lots of them.
Makenna Warren, 9, of Pitcairn had come up to the park with her mother from their home east of Pittsburgh and was hoping to avoid such a fate. Sunday marked Warren’s second trip to the park, but her first chance to explore the water park. By mid-afternoon, she had splashed in Connie Otter’s Kiddie Cove and taken a few turns around the circular lazy river, but had not yet dared the twin Cliffhanger Falls water slides.
Standing beside her mother next to the lazy river, Warren squinted from the sun as she gazed up at the six-story tall slides.
“That’s where I’m going next,” she said.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.