ONCE UPON A THEME PARK AT NEW HAMPSHIRE'S STORY LAND, THE THRILLS ARE
SIZED RIGHT FOR TOTS
Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
GLEN, N.H. - This has not been a banner year for local amu***t
Roller coaster mishaps at Six Flags New England and Canobie Lake Park,
coupled with steepening ticket prices and rising heat indexes, have
left many patrons feeling less than amused. Families with young
children have faced other challenges, too, such as pondering whether
it's worth a 45-minute wait to ride a 60-mph roller coaster that may
or may not cause brain trauma. Parents of most 5-year-olds could
happily skip that thrill.
At New Hampshire's Story Land theme park, however, this summer has
proved to be, well, a different story.
The 35-acre park, which opened in 1954, has been crammed all season
with happy faces, according to park officials - despite a conspicuous
lack of gravity-defying, nausea-inducing rides. Bucking the
bigger-is-better industry trend, the park has grown quietly but
steadily over the years, expanding from a quaint little Mother Goose-
inspired theme park into one with 16 rides and multiple attractions
that has become a popular vacation spot for thousands of New England
families with small children (40 percent of whom hail from
Massachusetts, according to park surveys).
Several factors help explain the park's sturdy popularity. Among these
would be its modest admission fees ($18 for a full-day pass) and
comparably modest concession prices, its well-tended grounds and
well-staffed attractions, its jewel-like setting in the scenic Mount
Washington Valley, and the fact that it unapologetically caters to the
You'll find a couple of roller coasters here, in other words, to
complement the twirling teacups, flying wooden shoes, and Cinderella's
pumpkin coach. But no ride that simulates a NASA shuttle launch or
re-creates scenes from a slasher movie. The biggest hazard?
Probably getting doused by errant spray while riding the Bamboo Chutes
coaster or Dr. Geyser's Remarkable Raft Ride, neither of which would
induce terror in a hypersensitive first-grader. The longest wait for
any ride on a recent Sunday afternoon? Fif*** minutes, tops.
No wonder everyone walks around the park all day looking so happy.
"I'd say 4 to 8 is the ideal age for us," says park president Stoney
Morrell, son of Story Land's founder and chief architect, the late
Adds Morrell: "At Disneyland and some of the more corporate-run parks,
the layout and execution is so perfect it's almost intimidating. We're
more into what I call comfortable imperfection."
Morrell literally grew up with Story Land - his father, who died in
1998, built the first park exhibits in his driveway, and his mother
ran the gift shop - so he may not be the most objective analyst.
Morrell is also reluctant to discuss attendance figures, saying only
that Story Land is visited by "over 75,000 families a year."
The park employs nearly 300 people during the summer months (including
two dozen exchange students from Eastern Europe) and 35 staffers
year-round, when new construction is normally undertaken. A new
attraction, such as the Polar Express roller coaster or Oceans of Fun
Sprayground is typically added every other year, says Morrell.
But the most convincing explanation for Story Land's enduring appeal
comes from such customers as Jennifer Field, of Merrimack, N.H., who
first visited the park 33 years ago.
Field returned here a week ago with several family members in tow.
While Story Land has added new features over the years, she observed,
it has been careful to preserve both its sense of scale and user-
friendliness. Any place that prices its food this reasonably ($1.25
for a hot dog, 90 cents for a medium soda) cannot be too obsessed with
profit margins, either, Field suggested.
"The park has always been clean, and the staff has always been
extremely pleasant," said Field as she waited for her children to
finish the popular Antique Cars ride. Ann King, Field's mother, soon
walked over and joined the conversation. Gray-haired and twinkle-
eyed, King proudly noted that two of her daughters and seven of her
grandchildren were with her at the park this August morning.
"I used to love coming here myself," said King with a smile, "and it's
only gotten better with age."
Field and King were not alone in having memories of long-ago visits to
park. Of five families approached more or less at random, three
included moms who had been enchanted by Story Land when they were
"It's still very charming - and still not overly commercial,"
commented Cynthia Keefe of Byfield, visiting the park with her two
sons, Ryan, 12, and David, 10. Whatever else Story Land does right, it
seems to inspire the kind of familial loyalty that Disney officials
spend heavily to cultivate through sheer marketing muscle.
The group we took along on a recent weekend visit included two
(non-sibling) 5-year-olds and three friends aged 10 to 13 - hardly the
park's target audience, but they wanted to come. So we brought them
along. Even the older kids pronounced the park "a really, really fun
time," somewhat to our surprise. As for the two kindergarten- bound
girls, they had (coincidentally) been together at the Disney theme
park in France earlier this summer, so comparisons to Europe's version
of the Magic Kingdom were inevitable.
"I still like the `It's a Small World' ride best," said Eve, referring
to one of Disney's biggest hits. "The Bamboo Chutes is really cool,
though. Can we go on it again?"
Emma was already begging for another ride on the Polar Coaster. "I met
Cinderella," she beamed, chasing after Eve. "Just like at Disneyland!"
For the record, Story Land's Cinderella turned out to be a 14-
year-old Berlin, N.H., high school girl who wears braces on her teeth.
Somehow that only made her inherent princess-ness shine more brightly.
Story Land is located on Rte. 16 in Glen, N.H. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
daily through Sept. 3. Open Sat. and Sun. only from Sept. 8 through
Oct. 8. Admission is $18 (all rides included). Seniors (over 60) pay
$15, and children 3 and under are free. Free parking and kids'
strollers are also available. For information call 603-383- 4293 or
visit their Web site, www.storylandnh.com