Benjamin Rich may never remember his orange and blue helicopter.
Benjamin, a 3-year-old Waterford boy, flew the whirlybird in a short, circular pattern on a recent summer night. The capable pilot’s top altitude was about 10 feet above the launch pad at Hoffman’s Playland.
“We’re trying to take as many pictures as we can,” said Victoria Kelts Rich, who along with her 3-month-old son Samuel and husband, Adam, was making one of her last visits to the Latham amusement park. “They won’t be able to see it when they’re older.”
The Scrambler will stop its frantic zigging and zagging, the Paratrooper will end vaults into the sky and the Tilt-a-Whirl will cease rolling spins when Hoffman’s closes down for the season in mid-September.
This is it. The park’s owners, David and Ruth Hoffman, in July announced that the park located in the middle of a busy commercial section of Route 9 would close on Sunday, Sept. 14. The 18-ride Playland has been a summer haven for children and teenagers since it opened in 1952.
The Hoffmans announced last year that they were hoping to retire soon. Potential buyers, including Guptill’s Arena — located a few miles north on Route 9 — took passes on purchase deals. The land is expected to be redeveloped.
Now children and adults are taking their last spins. Moms and dads had cameras with them and coached their children to smile and wave as they boarded the Red Baron airplane ride and Balloon Flight lift ride, plus the boats (ring those bells, kids), merry-go-round and big trucks ride. The miniature train, the Iron Horse, also was full of children as it circled the park.
“It’s terrible,” said Kerrie Marble of East Greenbush, part of a party of children and adults on a birthday celebration adventure. “We don’t want it to close, but what are you going to do?”
Amanda Gyves of Troy, another birthday celebrant, said Hoffman’s was always much more accessible for small children than were large parks like Queensbury’s Great Escape.
“And it’s closer for everyone in this area,” added Marble.
“And it’s more affordable,” said Gyves.
The always family-owned Playland started with two rides and live ponies. The most rides they had was 19. A restaurant car offers cheeseburgers for $3.65, milk shakes for $3.75 and candy apples for $2.75, among other carnival-style fare. A Subway sandwich restaurant is on site; so is a games arcade.
David Mandt, a spokesman for the International Association of Parks and Attractions, said about 400 amusement parks are currently in operation across America. There used to be a lot more — Mandt said parks with electronic rides used to be located at the ends of trolley lines and around small lakes.
Family-owned parks, he added, have not been closing in large numbers.
“There are still a number of family-owned parks in the industry that are very successful and are doing well,” he said.
“An example of that is Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pa., it’s doing very well. Another family-owned park is Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. These are large, family-owned theme parks. Holiday World is one of the oldest parks in the industry.”
Mandt believes parks are recession-proof. Even when money is tight, he said, people will make time for family outings. They just might go to smaller parks, or to ones closer to home.
People making their last stops at Hoffman’s were not sure where they would go next year for uplifting experiences.
“My mom used to take us here when we were little,” said Danielle Duncan, originally from Greenville and now living in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as she watched her son ride the Paratrooper. “It’s a family tradition and it’s a family-owned place and there aren’t that many left. Everything is corporate now, no family places.”
Amy Pemberton and young son Joseph were licking ice cream cones near the restaurant car. “It’s been a fixture in this area for years,” Amy said. “I just loved the train, you got to see the whole park, it was a nice ride. I wish it was going to be here for him — he’s only three.”
Linda Hoyt of Niskayuna considers Hoffman’s a sort of time machine. “My father used to be so much fun on these rides,” she said, remembering her days on the train and in the planes. “I never thought I would come back here with my own children and have that kind of excitement, then I’ve had a different kind of excitement bringing my grandchildren here.”
Some people were visiting the park just to get their last looks. Maureen Johnson of Stoneham, Maine — once a Troy resident — wanted to see the rides one more time. “I hope somebody buys it and keeps it open,” she said. “It’s a place where so many have nice memories.”
She especially remembers the Iron Horse. Johnson, like thousands of other kids, had her first train ride at Hoffman’s.
“When you’re little,” she said, “that train looks so big.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.