Quassy Amusement Park and Lake Compounce
June 16, 2006

For our first amusement park of the season, Karen and I chose Quassy Amusement Park, a small family run park in Middlebury, Connecticut. It was a simple, direct drive from Route 84 to 64. The weather was beautifully sunny and warm. The park was easy to miss, across the street from a small baseball field, hidden by trees. The Paratrooper ride, Music Fest (a Himalaya), a giant slide and the white structure of the Mad Mouse could be seen from across the small gravel parking lot. I was suprised was that the park charged $5.00 for parking. That was as much as Lake Compounce, twenty minutes down the road. I guess Quassy had to make its money somehow, since there was no admission charge. We parked our car at the front of the lot. It was 10:30, a half-hour after opening, and there was hardly anyone there. It was a Friday and the last day of school for most communities, so that probably explained it.

A cheery beautifully painted sign greeted us at the entrance. It was a bit difficult to figure out where to enter. The park didn't seem to have any formal entrance area. The midway followed a sort of truncated "L" shape around the parking lot. So we followed a path lined with black railings down a slight hill and to the left. In front of us was a cute direction sign, a big blue octopus whose tentacles pointed to different landmarks at the park. Behind it was an ice cream stand. In front of us in the distance was a the Grand Carousel, a Chance fiberglass merry-go-round spinning to recorded music. Several years ago, Quassy sold their classic E. Joy Morris carousel to raise capital. I guess their plan worked, because the park stayed alive. To the left was the twisted structure of the Big Flush, a black water slide. It wasn't open. Walking forward, we passed the carousel. Just beyond it was a Chance C.P. Huntington train that circled counter-clockwise around a large empty grassy area. Beyond that was a row of food and game booths with colorful retro signs above them. To the right was the park's small ticket booth. A POP ticket cost $19.95. Karen and I decided to look around before springing for that.

We took a right down a narrow section of midway. There was a closed gift shop to our right and steps leading up to an arcade. On the left was a kiddie coaster, identical to Riverside Park's old one. In the center of the coaster track was a kiddie jet ride and a kiddie boat ride. The whole collection was surrounded by chainlink fence (probably for insurance purposes), giving it the appearance of a prison yard. That brought us to a small stone dock where it seemed as if a boat usually moored. There was even a queue line there. But no boat was to be seen. The view was quite stunning though. The sound of water from Lake Quassapaug lapping up against the stone made us feel like we were at the beach. A small boxy display had a shark head painted on it. You could enter from the back through some black cloth to make it look like you were in the shark's mouth. To the right was another little dock area with paddle boats, but no attendant was present. Some flat stone benches were scattered about the area. Karen noticed a cute birdhouse hotel high on a post.

We turned right and walked around a large building, the arcade. We walked up the stairs and inside it. There were the usual violent video games. There was a small Skee-ball section. There were lots of roll-the-coin style games that returned prize tickets. The one lone pinball machine was RollerCoaster Tycoon. We walked out the other end of the arcade and were back in front of the kiddie coaster. The ride operator was sitting there looking rather bored. Not one customer was in sight. Karen asked him when the gift shop opened. He replied it should have already been opened. As we walked away back toward the dock, he called out to us, "It's open!" The garage door on the shop was just being raised. So we doubled back, hoping to find some unique (or at least quaint) souvenirs. There were lots of generic gifts, but only a few items with the word "Quassy" stamped on them.

So we walked back around by the dock and headed right. There was a Chance Yo-Yo spinning around with a few customers in it and the Himalaya. We passed it by and came to the Mad Mouse. One of the ride's signs was laying on the ground. Maintenance people were crawling over the ride. A welder was repairing a section of track. It didn't look like the ride was going to be operational any time soon. And that was a shame, because it looked like a pretty exciting ride, a sort of cross between a Mouse and a Wildcat. It was odd that the Mad Mouse sign was there at all; the park calls the ride, "Monster Roller Coaster." There was a sort of bath house nearby that was also the ticket booth for Saturation Station, their recently-added water play area.

By then several buses had pulled in and the park was rapidly filling up. Karen spotted the Quassy Restaurant, so we walked in. It was a bit small, but nicely laid out with a rustic knotty pine look. Pictures of Quassy from the past adorned the walls. The menu was pretty decent, with everything from the usual burgers and dogs, to tuna sandwiches and even veggie burgers. But it was still a bit early for lunch. So I looked at Karen. "Well, what would you like to do?" It was a sad sort of question to ask, indicating that there was really nothing in the park that got us too excited. Neither of us were into spin-and-barf rides. The big coaster was down. Everything else was for kids. "Want to try the train?" I asked. So we walked over to the ticket booth. One side of it had an automated ticket dispenser, but it was closed. So I went up to the window. "I'd like two tickets for the train." The attendant mumbled something from behind the glass that sounded to me like, "That'll be a dollar." So I pushed a dollar under the glass. She said, "That's SIX dollars!" I looked at Karen, my eyes wide in disbelief. I pushed a five dollar bill under the glass. She gave us two tickets.

We took a seat on the train. There were a few other people on it. The young conductor took our tickets and said, "I'm just going to wait a few minutes for the carousel to stop." So we sat there quietly. A large group was milling about in a picnic pavilion across the tracks to the left of the train. It appeared they had settled down in the wrong spot, because they were collecting all their things and wandering back out onto the midway, looking a bit lost.

The conductor returned and started up the engine. He pressed a button on a pole to his left and engaged the throttle. He didn't waste any time. The train picked up speed and flew through a small tunnel, beginning its counter-clockwise arc around the big grassy field. At the far end of the arc there were two tiny buildings that could have come from the old Storytown, just sitting isolated under some trees on the other side of the tracks. In less than a minute we were back at the station. Karen and I looked at each other. But surprisingly, the conductor didn't stop. He smacked a button on a pole to his right and blew right through the station. We went around a second time, and then he stopped. So really, the ride cost us each only about $1.50 per minute. That wasn't too bad.

We walked on past the kiddie coaster, which appeared to be testing. Two workers were with the ride operator, and they were all discussing something. We walked back to the dock and took a right and then a left next to the paddle boats. There was a path lined with old Hershell and Mangels kiddie rides, all surrounded by chainlink fence. Scattered around the midway were various colorful wood cutouts, the kind where you stick your head into a hole. A few of them were themed to Spongebob Squarepants. There was also a Scooby Doo cutout near the train. I began to think I was at a Paramount Park. The path turned back up toward the Mad Mouse. That brought us back to the park entrance. I looked at Karen and sighed. We had only been there about a half-hour and we were ready to go.

For kids, Quassy would be a great place to go. The employees all seemed very pleasant. The nightly specials (Friday was 25 cent night; Saturday was Carload night) made it a great bargain for families. But for us, there was just nothing we wanted to do. I was really surprised at how tiny the park was. We could walk from one end to the other in a couple of minutes. Although we do simply enjoy a park atmosphere, Quassy felt more like a hastily set-up carnival. There were many places to simply sit and relax, but they seemed to be either in formal picnic areas or, like the stone benches, uncomfortable. Maybe a mini-golf course could be fun, or a sky ride or a dark ride. But I'm really glad that the park is still around, and I wish it continued success. It does fulfill a need for families with young children who can't afford the "big" parks.

Karen and I got in our car and drove the short distance back up Route 84 to Lake Compounce. Parking there was still five dollars. The lot was moderately full. Most of the cars were being directed to the back of the lot. The front 1/3 of the parking lot was filled with buses. As we walked up the path toward the tunneled entrance, we saw the new banners advertising the park's 160th anniversary. The staff parking lot still held the three dozen trailers containing the old Busch monorail.

As we walked toward the ticket booths, Karen noticed that the figures in the clock tower had been repaired and were all spinning. The carillon was playing brightly. There was a little Cadillac car, like those on the Great Escapes auto ride, sitting off to the right. A sign announced a new car ride for 2007. Karen had a discount coupon, but even so the entry price cost us about $32 each. In contrast with Quassy, where most of the buildings were white, Compounce was a blast of color. Main Street looked like a rainbow had spilled across it. A staff member handed us an entertainment schedule as we entered. The midway was packed thick with people, many kids from school and camp groups. We were baking from the heat, so we headed for the Thunder Canyon Rapids ride. We passed by the water park, which was mobbed with people. Oddly, the new lazy river ride was running but completely empty and unstaffed. The beautiful swan boats were all sitting at the dock. We walked the long path between the Trolley and Boulder Dash. There wasn't a very long line for Thunder Canyon. That might be because of how far away it was located from the rest of the midway.

As usual, we got completely drenched. So to dry off, we followed our routine of climbing aboard the Sky Ride, the half-hour trip across the Compounce mountain range. That's probably my favorite ride in the park. I still get nervous on the return trip; it's so high up in the air. We landed back on solid ground somewhat drier. We walked to the south end of the park to catch the C.P. Huntington train. The landscaping at the south station had been improved and was looking quite nice with various trees and tall grasses. The leisurely train ride brought us back to Main Street, where we indulged in some Potato Patch fries. After devouring them and filling up with free drinks, we headed toward the north end of the park. There were some new game booths scattered about. There was also a new stage wedged between the Zoomerang and Circus World (kiddieland). Karen wondered why there was no covering for the audience; the benches were out in the blazing sun. The show was called "Cirque en Vol" and the description promised "urban acrobats." The stage backdrop was a cartoonish apartment building. Over the stage was a trampoline. A voice behind us said, "It's a really good show. You should catch it." We turned around and it was Coaster Tony. He said he'd gotten back from Holiday World, and that Voyage was already starting to rip itself apart. He also said he was disappointed in Boulder Dash; it too was running rough. We chatted for a while. It sounded as if his interest in coasters was beginning to wane; he was much more enthusiastic about baseball.

To the north of the Zoomerang, a huge new cinderblock and steel building was rising. It looked like a new maintenance garage. Turning left up the hill, the old Rock n' Roll Diner was now the Parkside Diner with a different menu. We headed for Saw Mill Plunge. And then we saw the park's newest ride, Thunder and Lightning (an S&S Screamin' Swing). It was squeezed in between the Giant Wheel and Saw Mill Plunge. The ride's supports were absolutely massive, much larger than I expected. The park did a nice job landscaping the area; the queue was lined with trees and the front of the ride sported two colorful lightning bolts embedded in the ground. There was a "weather station" to the right with an animatronic forecaster who would broadcast the weather from time to time. (Naturally, the forecast was always for thunder and lightning.) It seemed to take forever to load the ride, and there appeared to be several false starts. But when the ride got up to speed it was incredibly noisy, sounding like a gigantic asthmatic dragon.

The area between Thunder and Lightning and Saw Mill Plunge got a makeover as well; scattered about were fake felled trees with sawblades protruding from them. There was also some sort of big maintenance building next to Plunge's lift hill that looked like an old log cabin. The venerable Arrow flume delivered another great ride. I loved the ride up the mountain and the trip through the trees. I wished it was a little longer. It was still one of the best rides in the park.

After getting mildly wet, Karen and I stood in front of Thunder and Lightning and watched it run. It moved a lot slower than I expected. I really couldn't see much difference between it and the Pirate Ship ride opposite it. They both seemed designed to produce the same sensation. It was just that the new ride had a smaller capacity and a slightly higher arc. Across from Thunder and Lightning, I noticed the old Enterprise had been given a complete makeover. It looked like the park got all new cabs for it and gave it a fresh coat of paint. Actually, it didn't even look like the same ride. The cabs were a glistening copper color. Opposite that, the old sports-themed cafeteria had been transformed into the Panini Grill. The offerings looked good, but we were still full from the fries.

Since we were right in front of it, Karen and I hopped a ride on the Giant Wheel, which looked uncomfortably cramped so close to Thunder and Lightning. We had a nice long ride, and were stopped at the top for a while. We watched Boulder Dash climb its steep lift, plummet down the curving drop and then fly off into the forest. After the Giant Wheel, it was time for Boulder Dash. We passed by a new concession: a mini-donut stand. Yeah, more of that healthy park food.... Boulder Dash was running both trains, and there wasn't much of a line. I noticed that the wood structure had begun to turn a light gray. It looked like the first layer of track laminate was new, but the rest of the wood looked dried and worn. After about ten minutes, we were in front seat. We remembered what Tony had said, so both Karen and I got ready to ride defensively. And sure enough, after we plunged down the first drop, the nose of the train began to shimmy and slap against the track. The train flew through the course at an alarming speed; it was the fastest I ever remember it. It hardly slowed at all as we crested the turnaround. But the train also rattled and vibrated violently. We hit the brake run hard. It really was an exhilarating ride, but also exhausting. The coaster seemed to need a little more TLC. The track didn't appear to have been greased lately (maybe because management didn't want the ride running any faster than it already was). But I'm not sure grease would have helped. Comparing that ride to how the coaster ran when it opened, I'd prefer the latter. Six years ago, it ran a little slower but I knew it was a great coaster and I couldn't wait to ride it again. As the ride gradually has become more physically punishing, my desire to re-ride it has decreased. It's still a great coaster; just not one my body can take anymore. The old Riverside Cyclone was like that -- a great coaster but not one I could ride twice in one day.

After that we wandered into the nearby gift shop. When Compounce had the old Carousel Corner gift shop, it carried some of the best souvenirs of any park I'd been to. And I bought almost every one they made. But when the Carousel Corner was replace by the Carousel Cafe the unique gifts seemed to vanish, replaced by more generic items. Sure, there were still sweatshirts that had "Lake Compounce" written on them, but nothing like the old sweatshirts that had an image of the park's Main Street stitched into them. We walked by the beautiful carousel building, the authentic band organ still cheerily playing. And then we stopped in the Crok Pot restaurant for a bite to eat. Karen got a big tasty salad and I got a slice of delicious pizza from Harborside Pizza next door, along with some more free drinks. After that, it was about 3:30 and we decided to call it a day. We made one last stop in the Yankee Emporium to see if maybe they had any decent souvenirs, but left there empty-handed.

Lake Compounce offered us a lot more variety than Quassy and we certainly spent more money there. I was glad to see that the next ride Compounce adds will be one for the whole family. Thunder and Lightning did have a relatively small footprint, so it was probably a good fit for the park. But I wish they had found a ride with a different sensation. Compounce could have been one of the few parks in the world to get an S&S Screamin' Squirrel coaster, which has a very small footprint, or even that company's Flyswatter. But overall the park seemed to be doing well, with a good mix of rides and activities. Everything looked clean and freshly-painted. The main difference between the two neighboring parks: Quassy seemed aimed at a specific audience. It had lots of rides for little kids and teens, but very little for adults. In that way it was like Mountain Park, which had similar rides (but also had a huge shady picnic area, mini-golf, Sky Ride, plus polka and Bingo in the pavilion for adults). Lake Compounce may have achieved a delicate balance, providing enjoyment for small fry, teens and adults alike. And they've done it while maintaining a fairly coherent look to the midway. That's a difficult feat. Now if they could just give Boulder Dash a little more TLC....

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