Idlewild fans hope magic endures
Theresa Rohaly, 78, has spent nine years as the Old Woman. She described them as the best years of her life.
"The children are the most fun," said Rohaly, of Pleasant Unity. "It's such a pleasant experience. I hope this doesn't change anything."
The same sentiment was expressed by the director of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce. Rachel Roehrig said the sale of Idlewild and Kennywood Park came as a complete surprise. "Not even a rumor of a sale," she said.
"I have lots of mixed emotions," Roehrig said. "I'm still trying to absorb the news. I think (the new company) will try to keep the park the same."
At the same time, Roehrig seemed to be bracing for any eventuality, noting the community interest and the corporate bottom line do not always mesh.
The park "has a definite appeal to a large group of people," Roehrig said. "It's homey. It attracts grandparents and parents who remember how much fun they had there as children."
The park, which has existed in one form or another since 1878, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, according to Julie Donovan, of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.
While park officials do not release yearly attendance numbers, Donovan said she has heard the figure is in the 500,000 range.
"We are confident that Kennywood knows what it's doing," Donovan said, "that it would select a company that would continue in the tradition of great family entertainment."
Martin West, of historic Fort Ligonier, said the park and nearby fort have had a worthwhile joint advertising relationship in recent years.
Two years ago, the two targeted the Cleveland area. According to West, the result was gratifying, bringing an influx of tourists from northeastern Ohio into the region.
"We hoped to do more advertising in 2008," West said. "We hope to continue to work with the new group."
Former Idlewild Park owner Richard Macdonald said companies that buy established properties do tend to rearrange things.
"I think everybody makes changes," he said.
Over the years, Idlewild has been a plus for the Ligonier Valley, Macdonald said. "We think it will continue to have a positive impact on the town."
The "Old Woman" Rohaly prays that Macdonald and the others are right.
"I have been very fortunate," Rohaly said. "The children keep you on your toes. They are so curious and have a thousand and one questions."
About Idlewild parkMay 1, 1878 : Founded when property owner William Darlington gives 'the right and privilege to occupy his land for picnic purposes or pleasure grounds' to Judge Thomas Mellon, owner of the Ligonier Valley Railroad.
1931 : C.C. Macdonald and Richard B. Mellon pool their resources to improve the property, adding rides, pavilions, lunchrooms and other attractions, including the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Carousel still in operation.
1956 : Story Book Forest is added.
1983 : Idlewild Park is sold to Kennywood Park Corp. A year later, Historic Village is relocated to the center of the park.
1985 : H20hhh Zone becomes a reality, followed by a steady expansion of waterpark attractions.
1989 : Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the Neighborhood Trolley are added.
The 21st century : the park is renamed Idlewild & Soak Zone.
The Old Woman Who in Lives in the Shoe at Idlewild park hopes the sale of the Ligonier Township attraction to a Spanish company doesn't spell the end of Story Book Forest.