Eleven-year-old Stephanie Mikelson of Spokane gingerly tossed a whiffle ball that hopped around the game table and settled in a white tube. No prize.
“That’s OK, last time I won that,” she said, motioning to a pony-sized white bear hanging from the booth at Silverwood Theme Park. “I named him Raspberry.”
The amusement park gods smiled on North Idaho this weekend, bathing Silverwood in sunshine that lured thousands of parents and wee ones Sunday - the last day of the season.
The large crowd capped a record-smashing year for Silverwood, fast becoming one of the region’s must-see attractions. More than 300,000 screaming, snow-cone slurping patrons passed through the turnstiles since May, beating last year’s record of 248,000, said general manager and president Dan Aylward.
“We doubled our group sales and our season pass sales this year,” said Aylward, whose efforts to resuscitate the park included aggressive regional marketing. “The coaster really helped.”
That would be The Grizzly, a 90-second, 55-mph primer on how gravity works.
Twelve-year-old Jeremiah Parkison has tamed The Grizzly 21 times, but Sunday found him sitting out the ride on a park bench with his mother, Belinda. Jeremiah had a crummy cold, but still had a pretty good time. His brother Jacob produced five lime-green licorice ropes, long enough to double as lassos.
“We’re going to get a season pass next year,” said Belinda Parkison of the Spokane Valley. “This is our fourth time here this year, so it’ll pay off.”
The Thunder Canyon white-water rafting ride, now nearly overshadowed by The Grizzly’s success, still thrills Parkison. “But it was awful cold this time - I kind of liked it better when it’s 100 degrees out.”
Few complained of cloudless skies and balmy temperatures for the first week of fall.
Charles Miller of Bayview, Idaho, who helped lay track for the antique train that rolls through the 9-year-old park, relished his first crack at The Grizzly. He was among a couple of dozen people waiting in line. “It ought to be exciting.”
The secret to bringing more bodies to Athol included creating more rides for very young visitors, like a gently spinning balloon ride, Aylward said. That brought a lot of families with young kids.
“The park’s really grown up a lot - it’s gotten bigger,” said Annette Barnes of Spirit Lake, Idaho, another season-pass holder. “I really like the ice shows.”
Large open spaces next to The Grizzly beg for new rides and attractions, but Aylward, with a sly grin, won’t tip his hat as to the park’s plans.
A wooded area a few acres from the main park, once slated for a zoo to succeed Spokane’s closed Walk in the Wild, may also have development potential.
Although 1996 was the park’s most successful year, the park staff had to deal with more than its share of tragedy.
One employee was murdered in Athol, and another died in an auto accident in Rathdrum. This month, stunt pilot Bob Heale died in a crash at an air show at Fairchild Air Force Base. As the heart and soul of Silverwood’s air show, Heale’s death leaves the future of the daily shows uncertain, Aylward said.
Work has already begun for next year, and Aylward said Silverwood will announce any plans for expansion within the next few months.
“We’re already booking business for next year,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos
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