News Column

The Beach goes on

August 18, 2014

By Jim Meenan, South Bend Tribune, Ind.



Aug. 18--MONTICELLO, Ind. -- The walking bridge to Indiana Beach amusement park lets you know immediately you are taking steps back in time. And once you pay and enter the park, you are sure of it.

A total of 44 rides, including a Kiddy Land, cover the premises bordering Lake Shafer in Monticello. Some of them even briefly take you over the lake that can look mighty refreshing on a hot summer day.

Indiana Beach Amusement Resort, as it's officially called, has been in business nearly 90 years, and according to Don Hurd, its vice president of marketing, it's still going strong.

Summer weekends draw 10,000 customers each day and weekdays often attract more than 5,000 people. Because school has started, the park now is open weekends only through Sept. 6.

But whether it's the wooden roller coaster, the Hoosier Hurricane, or the old-fashioned lockers at the water park, or even some of the water park itself, everything points back to a simpler time.

But the park has one common theme with the mega parks like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio; Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., and Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. -- it's fun.

And despite competition from those bigger parks, Indiana Beach is still in operation.

"We are having a pretty decent year," said Hurd. The competition from the bigger parks with the more famous rides has not had a huge effect, he added. "People like us because we are a short drive away.

"People like us because we are smaller," he added. "If you go to one of the bigger parks, you could be waiting in line two to three hours before you get to ride the ride. By that time, you've wasted a good portion of the day.

"Here if you wait more than 20 minutes in a line, there's probably something wrong. Here, you are looking at five to 10 minutes wait on most rides and people get an opportunity to enjoy all the rides here instead of just a few."

Some dispute Hurd's claim that the lines are generally short.

But some readily agree, including Mishawaka barber Mike Takach, who was there with family last week.

"I just like that it's kind of small and intimate" he said. "It's kind of a throwback to the old boardwalk like Atlantic City or Asbury Park boardwalks."

Old-time feel

Tammy Holmer, of South Bend, also cites the old-time boardwalk feel. For her, the park holds a special place because it's where her husband, Wayne, proposed to her. They now take their three kids there, and have for nearly a decade.

"It's not little, but it's also not big like at Great America," Holmer said. "It's a whole different feel."

She likes the fact that a water park is part of the park, giving everyone a chance to cool off during a long day.

Sierra Winters, of Bremen, went for the first time this year with her family. She said the park's portrayal of itself on its website did not measure up to reality. They did have one long wait for a kids' ride. And some rides were not up and running, which Takach also noticed.

Both Winters and Takach believe the park could be cleaner. Takach adds that one ride has not worked the last three years they were there, but they still love the park. "It's a good family-oriented atmosphere," he said.

Hurd said the controversy over several hundred thousand dollars of unpaid taxes in 2013 has been resolved and taxes are current for the park, which generates about $60 million for that area's economy while employing about 1,000 people during the season. It is now owned by Bob and Lisa Moser, and is one of White County's largest employers during the season.

Both Chicago and northwest Indiana combine to give the park 65 percent of its visitors, and receive much of its advertising budget. This year, the park is also advertising heavily in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Hurd said. The park considers its market driving distances that are about two hours away or less.

The park sells memories. "It's a retro type park," Hurd said. "People have been coming here for years and years and years. People love the old-time feel. It's just a nice family tradition park."

Derrick Avery, like Takach, responded to a Tribune Facebook post seeking opinions.

Avery has family in South Bend but lives in North Manchester, Ind. He's been going there for 44 years, first with his five kids and now with four grandkids. He says he plans to attend many more years.

"We will go until I am dead," he said. He cites affordability, cleanliness among the assets. Though they had heard many rides were down, they were working when they were there, he said.

Family tradition

"It's a family tradition," he said, that dates back to his youth when the company his dad worked for sponsored a company picnic there. "We enjoy mostly the family atmosphere."

And it does have some big-time rides of its own, perhaps not as long in duration or as large as the bigger parks, but quality rides nonetheless. Ticket prices, which can be less with discounts, are $36.95 for a Fun-Day pass, which includes both the water park and the rides.

The Hoosier Hurricane is now 20 years old and cost $4.5 million to build in 1994. It is one of three main coasters.

The park, built in 1926 with a few rowboats and a hot dog stand, also has seven new rides, including a kids' coaster and pumpkin Ferris wheel.

The annual rumor that a bigger park is going to buy Indiana Beach is simply not true, Hurd said.

"The Spackman family knew what they were doing," Hurd said. "They knew they had something that they could be proud of and continue to develop that thing for more than 80 years."

JMeenan@SBTinfo.com

574-235-6342

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(c)2014 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

Visit the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) at www.southbendtribune.com

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Source: South Bend Tribune (IN)


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