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Storyland and Playland: celebrate 55 years in Roeding Park

By | February 24, 2010 | Arts & Entertainment (3)

Generations of families relish in the simple things they pass down to younger generations. Each spring, Fresno follows in its own tradition: Rotary Storyland and Playland in Roeding Park. On Feb. 13, the park celebrated 55 years of business.

“Opening week was the busiest three day weekend we have had since I took this position in 2006,” Barry Balke, CEO of Storyland and Playland said. “Our guests are what keeps Storyland and Playland, alive and we work very hard to make sure their experience is memorable.”

The colored plastic keys will continue to bring life to many childhood favorites such as trains, boats and roller coasters. Balke said they are hard at work updating many of the attractions.

“We will be working on a remodel of our train depot at Playland,” Balke said. “This project comes from a $50,000 grant from the Lois Kyle Family who has been a big supporter of the train at Playland for years.”

The train’s name, “The Willis B. Kyle Express Train,” gets its name from Lois Kyle’s late husband. “In total, we have completed over $750,000 in new improvements to the parks since 2007,” Balke said.

For this season, there are a few new additions to the park. “Last weekend, we opened up a more interactive Pirate Ship at Storyland and a brand new exhibit called Mother Goose in California,” Balke said.

Fresno State graphic design instructor Doug Hansen, is the author of the children’s book, “Mother Goose in California.” Hansen was approached by Balke about creating an exhibit based on the theme.

“It’s something that I wanted to do for a really long time,” Hansen said. However, he was unaware of how soon he would see his book come to life.

“It all happened really fast,” Hansen said. In October, he was told a section of the park would be demolished. By November, construction on the novel exhibit was ready to begin.

Hansen’s illustrations are now literally larger than life. From the hedges to the fences to the tube which children crawl through to the red fence that appears on the cover of the book.

“They took the book to the painter and had him match each color,” Hansen said.

When opening day arrived, Hansen was on hand to read “Mother Goose in California.”

“It’s like a ripple in the pond. It grows and touches other people,” Hansen said. “It amazes me how these things can grow.”

With each appearance, the story of mother goose hard by new generations.

“People would come to me and ask me if I wrote the rhymes,” Hansen said. “I made an assumption that people would know.” Hansen said he is very happy to introduce the characters to a new generation.

The new year has brought numerous events at the park. “Evening on Memory Lane,” a fundraiser in March, “Eggstravaganza,” an egg hunt in April as well as a few anniversary celebrations in May.

While some of the attractions may be aimed toward children and families, Balke hopes to involve Fresno State students.

“One of our greatest needs is volunteers with artistic ability to help repaint characters and exhibits at Storyland. It seems once we get them all painted, it is time to start again,” Balke said. “If there are any students with some art experience, they would be a huge help.”

Heather Heinks, community relation’s manager for the Fresno Parks Department, appreciates the parks relationship with its surrounding neighborhood.

“While most Fresno parks are a major destination point in the city, Roeding Park is still very much part of the neighborhood and continues to be the best-kept secret in the backyard,” Heinks said.

While most people look for forms of cheap family entertainment, children’s admission into the Storyland is less than $5 (and family passes are available.) The park strives to maintain the attractions while allowing all walks of life to pass through. It’s motto “Celebrating The Past, Ensuring The Future” conveys just that.

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