In more than a century, Oaks Park had never missed a season. Then, last March, in the middle of springtime worker training before reopening, the coronavirus pandemic derailed everything, including the fun at this Portland amusement park.
Management dismissed most of the 200-plus workforce, keeping just 12 employees. The roller skating rink, which usually buzzes year-round, went dormant. A new ride — a nearly $2 million investment — sat unused.
“We had a terrible 2020,” said Emily MacKay, marketing and events coordinator. “We had just hired up and were getting geared up for the season. Then we had to contact people and say ‘Sorry guys.’”
The 116-year-old amusement park reopens April 17.
Its gates won’t swing open completely. In April, the park will open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. In May, park officials plan to add Fridays with the same hours. They’ll also be open on Memorial Day.
Starting June 14, park officials expect to open seven days a week until early September. This year, Oaks Park won’t close as usual in September but instead will run a Friday-through-Sunday schedule until Oct. 31.
Coronavirus-related restrictions will also cap the park’s crowds, MacKay said. In a typical season, the 44-acre site welcomes as many as 16,000 visitors a day. This year, it will serve only 9% or 10% of that.
“Part of the experience is you’re here with a huge crowd,” MacKay said. “There will be none of that.”
Masks will be required except when eating and drinking, park officials said. Queues for rides and games will be socially distanced. Park officials also said they’ll ramp up sanitation and check staff’s health daily.
Tickets will be first come, first served and must be bought online.
Despite the changes, MacKay said park officials are optimistic. Loyal customers and the limited capacity, she said, will probably result in sellouts.
The park’s new ride, called the AtmosFEAR, is a nearly 100-foot-tall swinging pendulum. It replaced the Scream’n Eagle, a gondola-style ride that had aged into retirement, MacKay said.
Staff say they are happy to be back to work. Amy Hamblin, a 46-year-old office administrator, has worked at the amusement park in off-and-on stints since she was a teenager. She’s not rare among staff who spend decades there.
“People just love this place, all for different reasons,” Hamblin said.
Hamblin started as an instructor at the skating rink and made it part of her children’s lives. In February, when it became clear the skating rink would reopen this spring, she said it felt like a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It was a really long wait,” she said. “Especially for my family, who are really tied to that rink. We were just hoping and praying.”
Her three children have all competed in roller figure skating nationally, she said, and the wooden hallways in her home were poor substitutes.