What a ride. Spinning, twirling, nostalgia return after 12 years to Bushkill Park. Posted Oct 11, 2019 By Rudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com
For more than 100 years, kids rode the rides at Bushkill Park in Forks Township.
What made the rides so remarkable this summer was the 12-year lapse that preceded their return to operation.
Three major floods, Herculean cleanup tasks and the myriad distractions from smartphones to indoor water parks didn’t keep patrons from returning to the tiny amusement park to take advantage of the newly restored, historic rides.
“There aren’t many parks that go to the brink of extinction and come back,” said Jeremy Carrington, Bushkill Park’s director of operations.
It took more than a decade to bring back the rides. The park started modestly this summer with just five rides mostly geared toward youngsters. Carrington envisions eventually opening 15 to 18 rides.
The park owners knew they were on to something when thousands of patrons rushed to the park for a one-day-only open house of working rides in 2017. Then-park manager Neal Fehnel estimated 3,000 people came through the gates but Carrington puts that number closer to 5,000.
The turnout was much greater than expected, but could patrons be expected to show up weekend after weekend for a whole summer? They did, Carrington said.
“Attendance has gone up every weekend we’ve been open,” he said. The park averaged about 1,000 riders per weekend. It was only open Fridays and Saturdays and will remain open on the weekends through the end of October.
There are bigger and better parks, but they don’t have the memories that stir grandparents to bring their families to Bushkill Park.
“It’s not so much that you can put your kid on a ride. It’s that you can put your kid on the same ride that you rode and that your grandparents rode,” Carrington said Thursday. Few parks have been around as long as Bushkill Park. One elderly man and his wheelchair-bound wife came every weekend this summer for an ice cream cone, Carrington said.
“He would wheel her down and together they would take a train ride,” he said.
Others have come from out of state looking for Bushkill Falls and are charmed by the off-the-beaten-path park they stumble upon.
The park is making a comeback thanks to a staff of five retired carnival workers using their collective talents to reverse-engineer the dormant rides. Some lay caked in mud after three successive floods in 2004, 2005 and 2006 that nearly put the park out of business.
As workers restore the rides, they uncover pieces of history. Chuck Burnham is painting the funhouse. Once known as the “Barl of Fun,” the funhouse was covered in layers of old paint. Burnham burned away the layers to arrive at a lead-based coat. In lead paint were the words “Hilarity Hall” spanning the entrance. Bushkill Park
It turns out the “Hilarity Hall” funhouse is registered through old insurance records dating back to 1927. Burnham dates the paint used back to 1918, making the funhouse the oldest in the country by his reckoning.
When he was invited to restore the house he moved to the Lehigh Valley from Connecticut and has lived here ever since.
“We have a real gem here,” he said.
His vision for the funhouse includes nods to various eras of its use. To the left of the entrance, he recreated the image of a maiden standing on a circus ball that lay hidden for decades under layers of paint. On the right side, he could find no such hidden image so he recreated his own version of the “barl," or barrel of fun as the house had come to be known. The “barrel” refers to the large rotating tunnel inside the house.
Over the center of the entrance he painted a 1960s-era sunburst clock with backwards numbers. It will eventually say, "Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.”
Workers like Burnham aren’t in it for the money.
“They’re here because they want to be here. They love the atmosphere of the park and they want to see us open,” Carrington.
Bushkill Creek floods are a constant threat. The land was drained more than a hundred years ago to make way for a transit stop. The amusement park opened in 1902. Carrington said the owners have learned to cope with the floods, to make the rides more waterproof and make water-sensitive motors easier to remove.
A flood in 2018 put the park to the test. Rather than lament, the workers rushed into the waters to learn how to adapt to the conditions. They figured out water was coming through drain pipes and are modifying those pipes to better control future deluges. Bushkill Park flood
“We learned a lot from being in the actual water,” he said. They took advice from Knoebels in Elysburg, an amusement park also prone to flooding. As the water retreated, Bushkill Park workers power-washed and pumped out wet areas and were ready to reopen quickly.
It’s not too late to check out Bushkill Park yourself. The park remains open three more weekends. Halloween in the Park is slated for Saturday, Oct. 19. There will be food trucks, a craft fair, pony rides and a pumpkin patch.
Carrington knows there’s a long way to go before the park is fully restored but he’s happy with his progress.
“Almost all the feedback we’ve gotten is positive. They tell us, ‘It’s looking good. Keep up the good work,’” he said. See for yourself
Bushkill Park’s rides are open:
5 to 10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 12. 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday., Oct. 13. Noon to 10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 19 (Halloween in the Park. It features food trucks, a craft fair, pony rides, and a pumpkin patch). 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20. 5 to 10 p.m. Sat., Oct 26. 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27.
The swans. The ride is original to the park and easy to maintain. It’s a favorite with the youngest patrons. The Cops and Clowns ride. It was brought in from Dorney Park. A portable kiddie ferris wheel. The train. A red kiddie track ride.
What’s (hopefully) coming next year?
The dry boats, so named because they don’t run on water. A “wet boats” ride, where the boats actually float on water, is also slated for repair at some point.
The kiddie coaster. This ride is original to the park. It’s among the last of its kind. The park received a grant to restore it.
The whip ride or the Merry Mixer.
The skating rink is open all year from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from noon to 2 p.m. Sundays.
The rink has been open for the past three years. It went up in 1926, making it the oldest rink in the nation, according to Carrington, who cites a report in Rinksider magazine.
There’s an adjacent hall with a snack bar to host birthday parties at the skating rink. Parties start at $250.
Find out more about the park or kids’ parties by calling 610-258-6941 or checking Facebook.
Last edited by larrygator on Mon Oct 14, 2019 9:07 pm.
As usual, my analysis is free of charge! Original enough to not steal someone else's quote as a signature
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