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Story Land in Glen, New Hampshire, is what a theme park is supposed to be; themed. Fully themed. In this child size world, storybook characters come to life in a land of wonder and fun. Paul Ruben visits a park that has been delighting families for 55 years with a mix of wonderfully themed rides, shows and storybook characters.
Story Land opened in 1954 in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Founders Bob and Ruth Morrell were inspired by the magic of children's fairytales and the dream of bringing them to life. Opening day attractions included Humpty Dumpty, the Old Woman in the Shoe, the Three Little Pigs, Peter Rabbit, Heidi's Grandfather, the Red Schoolhouse, plus a few other familiar characters that took the place of heavy equipment on the site of an old saw mill. The only ride was Freddy the Fire Truck, a real fire engine built in 1923 that took guests on a path through the woods.
Bob and Ruth's two children, Stoney and Nancy, both grew up at Story Land. Although their parents passed away in the 1990s, they continued the park's long-established traditions. The park has grown little by little over the years, adding features and sometimes entire new sections as economics allowed and demand dictated, and now encompasses about 40 acres of all-day fun targeted at young children, their parents and grandparents.
Stoney Morrell held the reins of the operation from the mid 1980s until his own passing in 2006. His sister Nancy then guided the park into a storybook marriage with the Kennywood Entertainment Company family of theme parks in 2007, a larger company with even deeper roots in the amusement business. In June 2008 the Kennywood parks, including Story Land, joined the Parques Reunidos group of international parks and attractions.
But the spell cast on the Morrells a half-century ago continues to marvel families who come to Story Land. “We’re really not about rides and games,” said Jim Miller, Story Land's recently-departed business co-ordinator (Jack Mahany now fulfils many of his roles). “We’re about memories. We create lifelong memories for families with young children. This is the only place in the world where children can meet Mother Goose, take a spin through the insides of a giant cuckoo clock, see a circus show and walk through the Three Bears’ House.”
While children are the theme park’s main constituency, Story Land’s most loyal customers are mothers, many who visited as children themselves. As one-time visitors become parents and grandparents, they return with a new generation of guests.
“It’s a testament to how much of a priority it becomes for parents to come to Story Land,” contends Miller. “Families are always looking for a value, and Story Land is just one tank of gas from most of New England.”
Story Land features 20 themed rides, including classics like the Antique Carousel and the Dutch Shoes, as well as newer rides such as the Flying Fish and the Eggs-traordinary Tractors. All are designed for parents and children to enjoy together. In addition there are three stage shows, including a professional circus, play areas, live animals, flower gardens, four gift shops and a wide variety of places to eat.
The Five Ss
"It’s very difficult to single out any one attraction as the most popular with our guests," Miller admits. "Young kids love the play areas like Grandfather Tree and the characters like Cinderella and the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe. Older ones, say 8 to 12 years old, tend to favour the bigger rides like Dr Geyser’s Raft Ride and the Polar Coaster. Probably the most common denominator for all of our guests would be the Huff Puff & Whistle Railroad.'"
"Story Land has always operated with a core philosophy of the 'Five Ss'" offers Miller. "That is safe, smooth, smiling, spotless and service, with the foundation being, 'take care of people, and the numbers will take care of themselves.' We keep the focus of the crew on those Five Ss, with a handful of us in the back office keeping a close eye on the numbers."
Story Land has 40 year-round employees, and nearly 400 during the summer. The park caters to families with children living in or near New England. It also draws from America's mid-Atlantic region and Canada's maritime provinces and Quebec. The season runs from late May through to mid October. The park's only group sales are to local grade schools for field trips in June and some nearby summer camps, less than 2% of its business.
Lasting a Lifetime
As well as adding new attractions Story Land places equal emphasis on maintaining individual features. "In 2008 we focused on our shows, bringing in the Royal Hanneford Circus for performances under a big-top tent from Memorial Day weekend (late May) through to Labor Day (early September),” notes Miller. “We also upgraded our stage shows with productions and talent from American Entertainment. Both of these features were big hits with our guests."
"We’ve very recently gone from being a family-owned, independent small business," he cautions, "to becoming a small part of a much larger, global corporate family of parks under the Parques Reunidos banner, so we’re all just starting to get acquainted. Our core plans for the future at the park level and from an operational perspective are to stay true to our ‘brand’ and deliver the same focused, charming and memorable Story Land experience that our guests have loved for 55 years. On the corporate side, we’re hopeful and optimistic that our new owners and their investors understand the business needs and responsibilities of a small rural family park like ours."
It's as if Jim Miller was echoing the thoughts of Stoney Morrel, whose words in 1990 still resonate today. "As the pace of the world becomes faster and quality family time more scarce, the need for clean, relaxing, inspiring environments which serve to renew our spirit becomes ever greater. In a time when consumerism is measured in number of units sold, we'll be providing a product which people take home not in their pockets, but in their hearts."
Every ride tells a Story
Although former business co-ordinator Jim Miller insists, “we’re really not about rides and games,” Story Land nevertheless adds something new every year or two. The park’s rides are most accurately described as “family amusement rides” rather than “thrill rides” or “kiddie rides,” intended to accommodate parents and young children at the same time. Here’s a list of the 21 rides currently operating at Story Land and who supplied them:
– Flying Fish (Flying Scooters), Larson International
– Henrietta’s Eggs-traordinary Tractors (Do-Re-Mi Tractor), SBF
– Crazy Barn (Crazy House), Preston & Barbieri
– Swan Boats, RP Creations/in-house
– Cuckoo Clockenspiel, Wisdom/in-house design
– Whirling Whales (Dive Bomber), Wisdom
– Great Balloon Chase (Ferris Wheel), Zamperla
– Slipshod Safari, new cars/wagons by Kubota 2000
– Polar Coaster, OD Hopkins & Morgan
– Turtle Twirl (Tilt-a-Whirl), Sellner
– Bamboo Chutes (Log Flume), OD Hopkins
– Dr Geyser’s Remarkable Raft Ride, OD Hopkins
– Alice’s Tea Cups, Philadelphia Toboggan Company
– Silver Mine Tour (interactive walk-though), in-house
– Dutch Shoes (elevating merry-go-round), Allen-Herschell
– Antique Carousel, Heyn 1800s
– Buccaneer Pirate Ship (passenger boat), Jimmy Jones Boatyard
– Story Land Queen (passenger boat), in-house
– CP Huntington railroad trains (five engines, four in service), Chance
– Antique Cars, Chance
– Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach, Mountain Valley Fabrication/in-house