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Animatronic dinosaurs coming to Magic Forest

Animatronic dinosaurs coming to Magic Forest

New owners to keep Lake George amusement park the same but update safari feature
Animatronic dinosaurs coming to Magic Forest
The Magic Forest safari train is shown in 2015. The amusement park's new owners will convert the safari to a dinosaur lair.
Photographer: File photo

LAKE GEORGE — The new owner and manager of Magic Forest announced plans Tuesday to build a safari trail populated by animatronic dinosaurs within the Route 9 amusement park.

The attraction is being renamed Lake George Expedition Park and will consist of two parts: Magic Forest and Dino Roar Valley.

Magic Forest will be largely the same collection of rides, minus at least some of the hundreds of statues that dotted the grounds.

The statues remain the property of the park’s previous owner, and he is selling them off to collectors.

Dino Roar Valley will occupy what formerly was the animal safari in Magic Forest, a tractor-pulled train passing static displays of model animals.

John Collins, general manager of Lake George Expedition Park, said the blueprint for Dino Roar will go before the town Planning Board next month. 

If the plans are approved, and the winter isn’t too severe, construction will start almost immediately. If all goes well, the new attraction will be ready to go by Memorial Day.

“We’re still working on the final details of the project,” Collins said Tuesday, but it will include a fossil dig site and an educational theater, and possibly other attractions.

Likewise, the budget for all this is unknown and the partners aren’t providing an estimate at this point. But acquiring a menagerie of mechanical dinosaurs, with a titanosaur getting top billing, will be a significant commitment of funds.

“They’re state of the art,” Collins said. “They are fully automated, and there’ll be several of them. They’re specially made for this attraction.”

The animal statues that have populated the safari for decades will be removed, and the train will be retired. Visitors will walk on the paved trail at their own pace.

"These dinosaurs fit well in a wooded area,” Collins said.

On the Magic Forest side of Lake George Expedition Park, the rides will remain the same. The main change will be the statues: Many will be gone. 

“It added the fairy-tale feel to Magic Forest,” he said. “They weren’t a ride; they just added to the ambiance.”

How many remain at Magic Forest in 2019 will depend on how many get sold in the interim.

“We may purchase some,” Collins said. “You’re probably going to see several of them there.”

The 38-foot Uncle Sam in the parking lot, reputedly the world’s tallest Uncle Sam statue, has been sold and is going back to Danbury, Connecticut, where it originated, Collins said.

The new owner of what is now Lake George Expedition Park is Ruben Ellsworth, operator of Ellsworth & Son Excavating in Fort Ann. He takes over from Jack Gillette, son of Arthur Gillette, who founded Magic Forest in 1963. They aren’t disclosing the purchase price.

Collins, formerly general manager of Great Escape and currently a consultant with Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington, said Magic Forest was one of numerous amusement parks built in northeastern New York in the 1950s and 1960s. Some became classic pieces of roadside Americana, such as Santa’s Workshop. Some evolved -- Storyland is now the Great Escape. Others, such as Land of Makebelieve and Frontier Town, went out of business.

“Those were all staples to the area,” Collins said. 

Why did Magic Forest endure when so many others in the region failed?

“I think it’s because they stayed true to their core and then marketed to them,” Collins said. “As long as you provide good value and have people enjoy their visit, people will come back.”

Gillette marketed Magic Forest to families with children 10 and younger, and so will Lake George Expedition Park, Collins said.  

“The dinosaurs, we think, will skew us older, as well,” he added.

The Magic Forest portion will open on Memorial Day weekend, and Collins said he hopes to have Dino Roar Valley ready by then, as well.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a good winter for our skiing friends but also a good winter for construction.”

As before, the park will be open daily from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, and then weekends only through Columbus Day weekend.

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