On Saturday, Sherman’s Amusement Park’s vintage 1920s carousel — normally a summer-only treat — spun its wooden horses for the first time for riders dressed in winter hats and coats as part of the fourth annual Caroga Arts Collective Christmas Tree Lighting event.
Courtney Hisert of Fort Plain said she brought her daughter Quinn, 8, and her niece Paislee Grems, 4, out to ride the carousel, so they could have a similar experience to the ones she had as a kid. She was encouraged to come out by her father Larry Voght, Caroga’s Highway Superintendent.
Quinn rode a white-and-black-striped zebra, chosen because it was “the tallest,” and Paislee rode a tan horse with a flowing white mane. After the ride, both enjoyed some hot chocolate with marshmallows.
“It’s nice to see Sherman’s back open,” Courtney Hisert said. “My parents have told me about how this place used to be booming back when they were younger.”
Kim Hart, vice president of Fultonville Machine and Tool Co., is a member of the Caroga Arts Collective (CAC) board of directors and helped organize the tree lighting, which also included a real horse-drawn wagon ride, a bonfire, and a live musical performance by the Caroga Arts Ensemble, as well as Christmas carols and a visit from Santa Claus.
Hart said the wintertime event has grown each of the last four years, a time during which the nonprofit Caroga Arts Collective finally, after years of legal and political squabbling with the town government, finally acquired Sherman’s for $1 at the end of 2019 from Gloversville-based attorney George Abdella, through his corporation Balboaa Land Development.
“The first year was just the tree inside of the information booth inside of the parking lot, and then the second year was a tree inside [the pavillion], then the third year, last year, with COVID, we had a drive-thru and lit the big tree for the first time,” she said. “We don’t blast it [to let people know we’re holding this event], so it’s been an organic growth of people. They just keep coming. We don’t even know how they know.”
Hart said reopening parts of Sherman’s Amusement Park for the members of CAC has been a labor of love, as they’ve worked to bring the venue many consider the heart of the town of Caroga back to life.
“Instead of kids going by and seeing it all boarded up and hearing about the memories, now we’re creating new ones,” she said. “This is the first year we’ve been able to have rides on the carousel, so all during the summer concert season adults, who rode it when they were kids, and their children and grandchildren have been able to ride it.”
The park’s carousel and Ferris wheel are still owned by Abdella, who has allowed them to be used by CAC as part of the quitclaim deed he signed over to them. CAC was the only organization Abdella was willing to allow to own the park after taking it back from the town of Caroga once the politics surrounding his complex donation agreement for the property in 2014 soured.
CAC was formed in 2016 and has grown from a small nonprofit hosting summer concert series inside the bumper-car building at Sherman’s to the property’s owner raising close to half of the money needed towards its $4 million capital campaign goal in order to build a new amphitheater. The first step toward transforming the venue into a world-class music venue and community center will be similar in concept to Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
CAC President Kyle Price said his organization is hoping to raise another $2 million before September 2022 in order to move forward with its plans for the location. He said right now it is seeking all of its local approvals for the site as it prepares to move forward. He said he still has an agreement in place from a large anonymous donor who has agreed to match donations towards the effort up to $10,000.
Price was at the park for the tree lighting Saturday. He said it has turned into a great community event that has helped to reintroduce the park to many people living in the region.
“It’s been a huge community effort,” he said, “and it’s been so fun to have the carousel running in the winter.”
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