|The weather finally cooperated for the third annual Wooden Warrior Day at Lake Quassapaug.
Karen and I decided to take a relaxing drive down the backroads through
Connecticut to get there, and ended up driving at 2 mph behind a
marathon on Route 202 in East Granby. Even so, we arrived at the
park in plenty of time. We brought sweatshirts with us, but found
that we really didn't need them. The sky was clear blue and the
sun was warm, unlike the first two Quassy events we attended. Theparking lot was
still a bit empty; the park wouldn't open to the public for over two
hours. But coaster enthusiasts were gradually arriving. TheWooden Warrior had
gotten quite a good reputation since it was built in 2011. For
this year's event, enthusiasts came from seven different states and as
far away as Quebec.|
Karen and I checked in at the entrance to Wooden Warrior and picked up our t-shirts. Then we queued up for our first coaster ride of the season. There were already a group of enthusiasts at the gates, including Geff Ford from the Western New York Coaster Club. George Frantzis, the park's co-owner, welcomed us at the station. Naturally, Karen and I queued up for the front seat. In short order, the first train left the station, clacked its way up the lift hill and then barrelled through the brief undulating course. Two rides later, we were sitting in the comfortable Timberliner train. The large flags lining either side of the lift hill were flapping wildly in the breeze. We crested the lift, turned back toward the station and got a good pop of air time as we plunged down the first drop. Each small hill threw us into our lap bars. We screamed through the tunnel, flew over the double-up and were soon back at the station. Karen remarked how short the ride was, but also how much fun it was, with not one inch of wasted track. I was impressed how well the ride was holding up. Although the wood was beginning to look weathered, the track was still solid and the ride was still smooth.
More enthusiasts continued arriving. I wandered about taking pictures for a bit, then we queued back up for another ride. The park still wasn't open to the public, but the station was now filled with enthusiasts. After a few minutes of waiting, we were once again in the front seat. I was surprised at how much speed the coaster picked up so early in the day. It was noticeably faster than our first ride, and I was sure it would only get wilder as the day went on.
After our second ride, we walked around the quiet midway. We paused by the paddleboats, looking out onto the deep blue lake. It was such a clear dry day, it seemed like we could see for miles. We walked past the old beach house. It has been almost completely dismantled and was being reconstructed. Next to it, where the old Mad Mouse coaster used to stand, were three brand new water slides that were still under construction. One of them was a giant fiberglass bowl, what I refer to as the toilet ride. I've never understood the popularity of those particular rides. But I'm pretty sure Quassy was the first park in New England to install one; I've never seen them at any other area park. Even though the water rides weren't opened yet, Karen paused to go swimming with some virtual friends. We then headed back for Wooden Warrior and took another ride, which -- sure enough -- was even faster, close to bucking bronco territory. By that point it was close to the noon banquet time.
The banquets for the previous Wooden Warrior Day events were held, logically, next to the Wooden Warrior in the Fieldside Pavilion. For this year, it was held in the Lakeside Pavilion at the northeast end of the park. We arrived there at about 11:50 and the crew was just getting set up. A woman was there adding a variety of flowers to planters nearby. Karen was immediately drawn to the water's edge, where gentle waves were lapping against the golden shore. Behind the pavilion were two horseshoe courts, so we passed the time playing a casual game under the shade of the grove. Within a few minutes, we heard the sizzle of the grill and lined up for lunch. As promised, Quassy was serving veggie burgers. Surprisingly, quite a few people besides us put in orders for them. They were quickly served up on thick soft rolls with melted cheese. There were plenty of condiments including fresh shredded lettuce, tomatoes and onions, plus delicious pasta, cole slaw and salad greens. There was also plenty to drink. Ron Gustafson, the park's head of publicity, was there encouraging people to eat to their heart's (or stomach's) content. Within twenty minutes, the pavilion was filled with hungry enthusiasts. The veggie burger was so tasty, I went back for a second (which is unusual for me).
After about a half an hour, Ron began the annual auction to benefit ACE New England. The first item up for bid was a large laminated print of Wooden Warrior. I had bid on the same print the previous year and lost. This year I started the bid at $10, and I was determined to get it. I didn't need much determination: to my delight, I ended up winning it for only $35! Ron also auctioned off the last remaining part from their old Mad Mouse coaster (an undercarriage wheel), and a Quassy mug and shotglass set. The auction didn't bring in as much money as in years past, but it was still fun and a nice gesture on Quassy's part.
After lunch, Ron took us to the Fieldside Pavilion where we met up with park president Eric Anderson who took time out from his busy schedule to chat with us about the building of the coaster and the challenges the park faced. It never ceases to amaze me how much grief parks like Quassy and Canobie Lake get from neighbors when they want to add rides. Some neighbors are understanding, but some complain incessantly about the noise and disturbance from the park. Since the park was there for a century, I couldn't understand how anyone could take those neighbors seriously. If those neighbors didn't like the sounds of an amusement park, why the heck did they move into a house next to one?
We all gathered in front of the Wooden Warrior's track and Ron took several photos of the group. Then Eric took us over to the new waterpark area. I was surprised to learn how much of the park's construction was done in-house, including the building of the Wooden Warrior. Even the colorful signs that brighten up the midway were made by one of the park employees.
Karen had headed off to the souvenir shop while I walked around with the group. I headed back to meet up with her. Along the west edge of midway next to the kiddie coaster where there used to be a birthday room, the park had a newly constructed picnic pavilion. the Trolley Stop, that looked really sharp. I found Karen sitting in the shade nearby at the lakeside, watching the paddleboats. We strolled through the arcade, which had changed significantly since the previous year. The entire center of the room was a large black-walled area labeled Quassy Quest Laser Maze. Instead of a typical Laser Tag game where kids shoot each other, this setup had a room filled with crisscrossing green laser beams. Players had to make their way through the room without breaking any of the beams. It seemed like it was going to be a popular attraction; several people were already in line waiting to try it.
The park had opened to the general public and people began streaming in. Not only was it a beautiful Saturday afternoon, it was also "carload" day where as many people as you could cram into your vehicle could ride all day for the single price of $35. That was a tradition at Mountain Park as well, and there weren't many parks left doing it. But that's one of the things that makes Quassy special; it's still an old-fashioned family park that's affordable for everyone.
That was enough excitement for us for one day. We stopped off at the ice cream stand. Karen got a cookies-and-cream cone and I got maple walnut. We took one last stroll around the midway and then bid our farewell to Quassy. Once again, we had an enjoyable and relaxing time. And in fact, this was the longest we had ever stayed at the park. Gradually, there seems to be more for us to do there. We would have taken a ride aboard the Quassy Queen boat if it had been running. And we didn't ride the train, which we usually do. But even so, the park had a lot of charm. And I was impressed with Quassy's slow but steady expansion. Eric Anderson said that because of Wooden Warrior, the park's attendance has been steadily growing year after year. And as they continue to expand their offerings, the attendance will continue to increase. But Anderson stated that he has maintained a focus on family attractions; he wasn't interested in the teen market that Six Flags targeted. By keeping that focus, Quassy fills a much needed void much the same as Mountain Park had: an inexpensive getaway for young families in a picturesque setting. It will be interesting to see what surprises the park has in store for the next Wooden Warrior Day.
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