When Paul Norton was 10, 11 and 12 years old, he didn’t mind the duties he and his brothers were assigned for the family business: Go on family trips to amusement parks around the country and ride the rides, all in the name of research.
Their dad, Gary Norton, was in the process of designing and developing Silverwood Theme Park in North Idaho, where Paul is now general manager. “He liked to watch us, see how we reacted to the ride,” the younger Norton recalled, including rides at places like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. “It was awesome – I know it was the best gig.”
Norton, now 38, feels similarly about his current job running the North Idaho amusement park, a family-run venture filled with roller coasters, a water park and thrill rides that attracts 650,000 visitors each year. Now, he’s been named chairman of the Idaho Travel Council, the governor-appointed council that helps oversee Idaho’s state tourism promotion efforts.
“I’m looking out my window right now, and even though the park’s closed, I’m looking at roller coasters and stuff – it’s just so much fun,” Norton said. “I couldn’t imagine myself in a different industry.”
He has some clear priorities for the Travel Council, based directly on his experiences in the tourism business in North Idaho. “I think we could get a better return on our investment dollars for marketing the state of Idaho if we spend more attention over in the west coast, Seattle, Portland markets, and as well up into Canada,” he said. Especially compared to marketing the state’s attractions internationally, Norton said, money spent in those closer markets will pay off with “more heads in beds in Idaho.”
“That’s the direction I’d like to see us move forward this year,” he said.
Involved in Silverwood since childhood, Norton worked as the park’s marketing coordinator, entertainment manager and operations director before being named general manager in 2008; he also put in a stint at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in his 20s, where he says he learned key lessons about customer service at a property that regularly won prestigious five-diamond and five-star awards.
“I learned a lot from stepping outside my family’s business for a while,” he said. “I could have stayed on that pathway, but this is my family’s business and I feel like I have more heart and desire to be here than anywhere else.”
Silverwood founder Gary Norton is still closely involved in the planning and design of improvements at the fast-growing theme park, which opened in 1988 as a showcase for vintage trains, planes and cars.
Other family members also play key roles: Paul’s younger brother, Nick, is the park’s resident magician, performing what Paul Norton calls “a really nice high Vegas-style act,” including illusions, escapes, dance routines and a live macaw. Older brother David manages Lindy’s, the seasonal fine-dining restaurant at the park; and older brother Mike runs the commissary kitchen for group picnics and outings.
Plus, Paul’s wife, Pei Wen, is the park’s sign manager, creating all the in-park signage, including menu boards and ride attraction signs.
“We’re doing a lot of things right in this park,” Norton said. “We get to gear up and work to put a lot of effort into trying to make other people happy, and have a lot of great memories and hopefully come back and share it with someone else. It’s easy for me to go to work.”