Lakeside should have opened Friday, but, you know

The owners say they’re waiting for more guidance on how to social distance an amusement park.
4 min. read
Lakeside Amusement Park, Aug. 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Today should have been Lakeside Amusement Park's official opening day. But, like most things, this hallmark of summer has been hit by the pandemic.

Work here churns all year long. There's a lot among the historic attractions and structures to fix up during the winter, so someone is usually around to pick up the phone, even during lockdowns. Lakeside's website lists its open hours as "almost always."

Brenda Fishman's forebearers bought the park in the '30s. She said she'd usually have an army of employees trained and ready to go by now. Though she's feeling spring unfold, she said, "everything's quiet."

Elitch Gardens has also postponed its opening day. Both parks are now waiting to see when they might be able to open their gates again.

Friday marks the end of Denver's mandatory stay-at-home orders. But fear that COVID-19 infections could spike again in a second wave means business has not continued to go on as usual. Some "non-essential" businesses have been allowed to reopen under new guidelines, but Fishman said she's still waiting for state direction before she decides on a new opening day.

"I think we're just sort of waiting to see what does get allowed," she said.

She's also waiting for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions to release its own guidance on how to run a park in a socially distanced world.

Fishman said her challenge is "twofold."

The first prong involves adhering to whatever rules the state gives her to reopen.

She's confident that social distancing is doable. Lakeside is so old, she said, that it was built in an era when amusement parks featured a lot of open space. She expects she'll have to limit how many guests are allowed, but at least they'll have room to keep to themselves.

Distancing in lines, she said, will be an easy fix. Some of the rides, like The Whip, don't force guests to buckle up in close quarters, so they're good to go. Others may require some empty seats.

It will be complicated, she said, but they've had time to plan as they wait for official direction.

"We've thought about it a lot," she said. "We don't have a magic answer."

Lakeside Amusement Park, Aug. 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Lakeside Amusement Park, Aug. 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The second piece of her challenge is actually sourcing material she expects will be required.

Commercial hand sanitizing products have been hard to come by. It's not just the goop; she's been on a list for dispensers for two months. Manufacturers, she said, are sending their supplies to the hospitals and businesses that need them immediately.

"They're being produced but they're not sending them to me," she said.

She guessed the supply will become more accessible as new cases decline and hospitals become less burdened.

But despite the planning and waiting, Fishman is still using guesswork to figure out what she'll need to reopen. She's been watching other states and parks closely to configure her estimates.

Some rules in other states require "a tremendous amount of hand sanitizer." It's "very concerning," she said, because finding and paying for it may not be easy.

A spokesperson for Elitchs said park management has been developing "a very extensive plan" that stipulates "significantly increased sanitation protocols." They're not quite ready to talk about it further.

For Lakeside, the uncertainty represents tricky economics that many business owners are feeling.

Expenses are up even as the school fundraisers that usually take over the park in May have been postponed until August -- hopefully. And there's no telling whether the public will be comfortable coming, anyway. Though she's eager to transition to the "fun work" of serving happy guests, Fishman said she's going to have to feel things out as they develop.

"Even once things are legal, we still have to make an ethical and moral decision of what's right to do," she said, "both for our staff and for the general public."

But she's excited for a time when everyone is ready to return. And Fishman said Lakeside will be welcoming more than guests when they get the go-ahead.

"We're going to be hiring big time," she said.

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