Lake Compounce bills itself as “the oldest continuously operating amusement park in North America,” but COVID-19 threatened to end that 174-year streak.
Now, with clearance from the governor’s office, the Bristol amusement park is ready to open, but there will be some notable changes to ensure the safety of guests and staff.
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I took a tour of the park on a hot, sunny morning last week with Amy Thomas, Lake Compounce’s director of marketing. The park, of course, was closed, but we certainly weren’t wandering the facility alone. There was a bustle of activity -- staff members were training new employees, landscapers were mowing, trimming and mulching, and workers were testing the rides.
“It’s been a lot of people taking on roles that they didn’t ever imagine,” Thomas said about the opening effort. “We’ve been cleaning, helping get the stands up and running, making sure all the cleaning chemicals are where they need to be, placing those social distancing stickers around the park -- it’s all hands on deck right now. “
Thomas said that back in March she and the staff started considering how they might reopen in the midst of a pandemic. When Gov. Ned Lamont allowed for the opening of amusement parks as part of his Phase 2 reopening plan earlier in June, Thomas said that’s when the real work started.
“It wasn’t easy. It was a lot of actually getting back to the park, and looking at our cue lines, seeing what we could reasonably change, and what we could reasonably do to accommodate everybody. I think the plan that we have in place is pretty solid,” Thomas said.
Lake Compounce’s reopening plan relies heavily on safety guidelines put forth by the state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and amusement park industry experts.
“Guests and team members will be required to take a temperature check as they arrive,” Thomas said. “If you temp at 100.4 degrees or over, you will be asked to leave. Facial coverings will be required by everyone that is age 3 or older. And walking through the park you’ll see social distancing markers everywhere. So, we’ll really need people to work with us, make sure they’re maintaining that 6-foot distance.”
The park will run at only 25% capacity this season. That means a big change in ticketing; for the first time in the history of the park, guests will not be able to simply come to the gates and purchase a ticket.
“We are asking everyone to buy online,” Thomas said. “And the reason for that is, per the state of Connecticut, we are capped at 25% capacity, so we are making sure we are not having to turn anyone away. Because how sad is that? Coming for a day of fun, and being able to get in. So, when you go on our website you are able to pick your ticket and then reserve for the day you are coming.”
Some rides and attractions will not operate because of social distancing concerns, like the bumper cars -- hard to social distance there. For all other rides, attendants will be in charge of ensuring all riders are seated with appropriate distance. And it’s not as simple as taping off certain seats.
Take for example, Lake Compounce’s oldest roller coaster, the Wildcat.
“So, for the Wildcat if you are in a travel party of four, you can sit together, but that next travel party will be socially distanced from you. So, if everybody is a single rider, it’ll be one person every other car, if it’s a family of four, it might be four here, an empty row, and four more here. This year will be different than any of our other 174 years.”
With the spacing protocol, Thomas expects some long lines, especially at the most popular rides.
Another challenge for staff, as well as guests, will be the water park, Crocodile Cove. Masks are not required in this area of the park, because they pose a drowning hazard. Social distancing will be especially important, which may be tough for kids eager to get on that water ride. Cue line managers will be on hand to gently remind guests to keep their distance.
Thomas said despite the delayed start to the season, and the new restrictions to keep everyone safe, the staff is excited and eager to get back to the business of running an amusement park.
Lake Compounce opens Wednesday through Sunday for season-pass holders, and the general public beginning Monday, July 6.