Lake Compounce
August 9, 2014

copyright Jay Ducharme 2014

It had been a few years since Karen and I had made the trip south to Bristol, Connecticut, to beautiful Lake Compounce.  Years back we would get season passes.  But as our summers grew busier, we rarely used them.  This was one of the last free days we had for the rapidly fading summer.  Even though it was a Saturday (often the busiest day of the week at a park), we took a chance and headed there for 11:00.  The weather was perfect, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s.

The first changes we noticed as we arrived were signs for the park's new campground, Bear Creek.  As we approached the parking gates, signs directed guests to the left for the campground.  We stayed in the center lane.  The parking lot was already about 1/4 filled, and dozens of cars were idling at eight separate parking gates.  Traffic moved slowly, and when we paid our $8 parking fee (reasonable, by today's standards) we discovered why: all eight lanes of traffic were immediately trying to funnel down to a single lane toward the parking lot.  There was no one there directing the heavy traffic, so guests were trying to cut each other off to be first in line.  After a few minutes we finally progressed onto the lane and followed the long route around the back of the dirt lot and then toward the front where attendants were flagging cars into their spots.  The park had begun offering closer "preferred parking" for $15.  But the lot wasn't that big to begin with.  We parked and followed the path toward the tunnel on the east side of Lake Avenue.

The tunnel had been given a fresh coat of paint, with bright blue sides and a white ceiling.  Bag check stations had been set up across the tunnel entrance, so we showed them our fanny packs.  When we passed through to the other picturesque side, there were six open ticket booths.  The lines weren't that long and within a few minutes we had paid the $42 (each) entry fee and had our tickets.  Then we had to hand those tickets over at the entry gate just beyond the ticket booths, and then we stood on the park's Main Street.  So far, everything seemed the same as on our last visit -- except we had never before seen so many people in the park.  In some areas, we were shoulder-to-shoulder with other guests.

Our first order of business was to stop at the Potato Patch for some fresh-cut french fries.  The concession was now also offering baked potatoes in addition to french fries and chicken tenders.  We were each given a generous amount.  Then we set about finding a place to sit.   The park had few benches to begin with.  There were some cafe tables behind the Wave Swinger ride and I spotted one free table.  So I grabbed it while Karen went to the nearby drink stand to get us some soda, which the park still offered free with admission.  Then we sat under the shade of the umbrella on the table and watched the Wave Swinger spin its passengers around.  We both recognized one of the passengers, an older man who we had seen on that ride on every visit to the park for nearly a decade.  The management seemed to know him, and he stayed on the ride nearly the entire day, even when it stopped.  As the ride started up, he would make a sort of loud moaning sound that would persist until the ride stopped.  He did get off the ride once and walked over to the operator's booth.  They handed him a large cup of soda.  He drank, handed it back and then sat back down on the ride.

From there we walked over to the north end of the park, to Zoomer's Gas N' Go, the park's '50s-themed antique car ride.  A billboard next to the station advertised Story Land, proudly proclaiming "Where Fantasy Lives!"  They forgot to mention the bacteria that lives there as well.  Karen and I sat together in a firey hot rod and had a pleasant trip.  From there we walked up the hill toward Saw Mill Plunge, the fun flume that unfortunately was down for major renovations.  We passed up the dark ride Ghost Hunt, which had a really long line.  Then we came to the great Boulder Dash, which also had a long line.  In the past, it tended to move quickly.  But this time, the park was running just one train.  So the wait dragged on.

Even so, within a half hour we had made it to the queue for the front line.  The green train went blasting by us.  And at that point, the maintenance crew appeared and proceeded to put the blue train on the track.  That typically meant a long wait as they cycled the new train through about two or three times.  But to our surprise, the blue train rolled up to the gates and was ready to board.  The upholstery looked the worse for wear.  But it was still well-padded.  There were teens in front of us who weren't keen on the fact that they were going to ride in the new train, so they let us go ahead of them.  We sat down and belted ourselves in.  The train slowly rolled out of the station and grabbed onto the lift chain.  Karen noticed that the tracks were dry as a bone; in the past, the tracks on Boulder Dash were always well oiled.   We crested the top of the lift and rolled around to the curving first drop.  I thought it would be a bit slow, since the train hadn't had time to warm up.  But we screamed across that drop and flew up into the next hill.  The ride was quite a bit rougher than the last time I had ridden it.  It felt as if there were small pebbles on the track.  But the train was relentless, barrelling along its course as fast as it could.  The triple-up at the end was still really powerful.  Boulder Dash proved once again what a marvel of engineering it was.  Though we didn't buy one (since we have about a half-dozen already), the park was selling on-ride photos in a really nice frame.

We then walked down the hill alongside the Wildcat coaster.  All of the shops and games along the east side of the midway were still shuttered.  I thought that was unusual, given the huge crowd in the park.  As we continued further along, we found that the Carousel Cafe had been converted into a Pink's burger joint, similar to the one we had seen at Cedar Point.  The conversion appeared to have been done pretty hastily; the concession's billboard-like signs had been slapped on top of what used to be a quaint gabled roof.  We stopped there to get some free soda.  Unfortunately, the ice wasn't functioning.  So we made do with warm soda.

We decided to cool off on the terrific Thunder Rapids raft ride, which was at the southern tip of the park.  We followed the path alongside Boulder Dash and the lake, past the old electric trolley.  As we looked across the lake, we were stunned to see the amount of construction going on.  I had known that the park finally moved Lake Avenue further to the east.  The road had previously directly abutted the park.  By moving the road, the park now had about fifty more acres of land.  And across the lake where once was a forested hillside, huge construction vehicles could be seen resting on hills of sand.  The park's C.P. Huntington train could be seen traveling alongside its base, appearing to be a toy in comparison.

There weren't many people in line for Thunder Rapids.  Even so, as we were waiting one of the attendants called out for two people.  So in short order, we were seated with a family who had never ridden it before (including a grandmother who wasn't keen on getting wet).  The ride proved its usual reliable self and by the time we returned to the station we were all drenched.

So Karen and I followed with our tradition and queued up for the Sky Ride.  Even that ultra-high-capacity ride had a line.  In a few mintues we were seated and being pulled up the side of the mountain.  There was a gentle breeze.  Turkey vultures soared above us, searching for a meal.  On our return trip, we had a bird's eye view of the new construction area.  It was pretty expansive, extending the entire length of the lake.  Perhaps the park would eventually tie in the east side of the lake to the west; ever since the southwest area was developed, the path alongside the picnic groves has led to a dead end.  We also had a good view of the new water park additions.  The new wave pool seemed unfinished, as if it had been dropped in the middle of a desert.

After the Sky Ride, we followed the path south to the train station and waited for the train to arrive.  There was still a walkway from the station down to the lake where the park used to dock the Mark Twain paddlewheeler.  But the walkway was getting overgrown and it looked as if it hadn't been used in years.  And no boats were to be seen.

It was a full train on the way back to the north end of the lake.  Along the way, the scenery to the right was disturbing -- just a wall of sand with roots and rocks sticking out, and occasionally a large stump or two.  In places the sand was cascading down in a mini landslide.  I was surprised that the park had allowed that condition to exist so close to the train tracks.  As we approached the newer waterpark area, it really did look unfinished.  Perhaps the park was trying to create a beach-like atmosphere.  But instead it just looked barren.  Weeds were coming up through the sand in many places.  There were two volleyball nets set up, one perilously close to the train tracks.  Even though a chain link fence had been erected to prevent someone from falling on the tracks, a ball could easily fly over the fence, bounce off the tracks and end up in the lake.  Given the amount of vacant land, I couldn't understand why they chose that location for the net.  Karen noticed a small food trailer near the Lake Avenue side of the waterpark.  It had the Johnny Rockets logo on it.  I guess the park really was taking a cue from Cedar Point.  The trailer was definitely a temporary structure, adding to the haphazard look of the area.  Maybe for the next season they'd add a Coasters diner and have all their bases covered.

When we arrived at the north train station, the crowds were even thicker than before.  The view of the waterpark from there was downright claustrophobic.  It was about 2:30, so we decided to get a slice of pizza for lunch.  We walked over to the Harborside Pizza stand and walked away with fresh hot slices.  We looked around trying to find someplace to sit.  We walked into the Crok Pot restaurant and every table was taken.  We walked out onto the spacious deck, and every table was taken.  We looked around outside at the cafe tables next to the waterpark, and every one was taken.  Karen suggested heading over by Pink's.  And every cafe table there was taken.  We saw one table that had just one man sitting at it.  Karen asked if it would be okay to join him, and he nodded.  As we sat down, he got up and left.  We were then joined by a mother and her two little girls.  I went to get something to drink.  An attendant had just brought a barrel full of ice and dumped it into the machine.  So we finally got some cold soda.

I don't know what Lake Compounce uses to make their pizza, but it's one of the most delicious that I've ever eaten.  Our slices were cooked to perfection, with thick cheese and tomato sauce and a crust that was thin but flavorful.  Karen was going to order some onion rings at Pink's, but the line stretched back all the way to the bumper cars.  When we finished eating, I decided to take some videos in the park as Karen relaxed in the shade.  And then at 4:00 we called it a day.  We exited through the gift shop, and I spotted a new t-shirt design that proclaimed Boulder Dash as the #1 wooden coaster in the world.  So I picked one up for myself and one for a friend.  I was also given a really nice complimentary park cup.

This wasn't the most stellar experience we've had at The Lake.   As we exited, I heard a man say to his son, "What a terrible park.  They're trying to fit a million people into a place that holds a couple thousand."  While I don't think it was that bad, it certainly was the most crowded I've ever seen (apart from a few decades ago when it was briefly mismanaged by Joseph Entertainment).  I could understand why the park was expanding its water offerings, since that was clearly what drew most of the crowd.  But Karen felt the park had begun to lose its charm.  Overcrowding certainly contributed to that.  The park could have used more places for people to sit.  Not only all the cafe tables were taken, but every bench was as well.  Perhaps this was an anomaly, with beautiful weather on a traditionally busy day shortly before school was going to resume.  To the park's credit, people chose to go there rather than any number of other recreational areas.  Perhaps as the park continues to expand, the crowds will disperse a bit more.  But until then, we'll choose a different day of the week for a visit.

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