Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NPN Exclusive: An Interview with Lakemont Park's General Manager

NewPlusNotes is pleased to bring you an exclusive interview with Barry Kumpf, General Manager of Lakemont Park in Altoona, PA. Barry was kind enough to let us pick his brain on everything from the aftermath of Boyertown to the amount of work required to maintain the world's oldest roller coaster. Let's hear what he had to say!

NPN: Tell us about your personal history with Lakemont Park and how you came to be General Manager of the park.

Barry: It was 1994. The owner of Lakemont Park, Ralph J. Albarano, Jr., had decided that he needed a new General Manager. At the time, I did not know Mr. Albarano, nor had I ever been involved in the amusement industry. Mr. Albarano telephoned a mutual friend who is the director of a local YMCA and asked him if he would be interested in being the General Manager at Lakemont Park. This mutual friend told Mr. Albarano that he was not interested, but that he was aware of someone that was looking to make a career change and that this person would do him a very good job. That was me! The rest is history. I met Mr. Albarano in his office for an interview, he called me a week later and asked that I meet him at the park and he offered me the opportunity. I accepted. He met me at the park on June 20, 1994, handed me a set of keys, shook my hand and said, "Good Luck!"

NPN: Despite its brevity, the "Boyertown USA" era brought some profound negative changes to Lakemont. Among other things, many people have lamented the loss of trees and landscaping which occurred during that period. Now that twenty years have passed since the demise of Boyertown, how far has the park come in recovering from this "damage"?

Barry: I am asked about the trees more times every year than the Disney staff is asked, "What time does the 3 o'clock parade start?" While it is true that the Boyertown era brought with it the loss of many beautiful trees at Lakemont Park, we have planted nearly 200 trees since my arrival and some of the ones that we planted in the early to mid-1990s are now over 20 feet tall. Soon, these trees will completely shade the main walkway coming into the park. The other thing that Boyertown did that was positive is that they put all new plumbing in the park and removed all of the overhead electricity and telephone lines and put them underground.

NPN: Blair County Ballpark [home of the Altoona Curve] has been your next-door neighbor for nearly ten years now. How has the presence of a minor league baseball team affected Lakemont's business and attendance?

Barry: There is no question that Blair County Ballpark and the Altoona Curve have become a great asset to the quality of life in the Altoona/Blair County marketplace. As far as its effect on the park, it actually "cuts both ways". On the negative side, we know that we have lost some group business to the ballpark. On the positive side, we know that we have visitors to the amusement park that we would not otherwise have, if they had not "built a day" around both the amusement park and the ballpark.

NPN: While other parks' admission prices continue to skyrocket, guests can still enjoy everything that Lakemont Park and the Island Waterpark have to offer for less than $10 a day, or even as little as $3 if they visit on a Wednesday. How do you manage to keep your prices so low?

Barry: We prefer to say "Family Affordable". You have to know your market. There is a reason that there is Wal-Mart and Neiman Marcus. A $39.99 or $49.99 per person amusement park would simply not work in our marketplace, even with the most elaborate of today's attractions. When we started "Dollar Day" many years ago, we offered the program on one Wednesday per month. During those years, our average guest count for that one Wednesday per month was 9100. There were one and two hour waits to ride some of the rides. That simply is not the product that we want to deliver, so we began offering the special promotion every Wednesday. Now our Wednesday guest count is closer to 5000 persons and all of our guests enjoy their day much more!

NPN: Your annual Holiday Lights on the Lake event continues to be a great success. How did this event originate? Do you have plans to further expand it?

Barry: I was sitting at my desk one day in the middle of winter, paying bills. I said to myself, "This is ridiculous!! We have this 51 acre property sitting here dormant and we still have bills coming in, there must be something that we can do to generate some revenue." So I started to give it some thought and found that there were other similar venues offering Christmas programs and I began to explore the possibility. I found a light display vendor who was willing to work with me on a "revenue share" program. That first year, our budget was $25,000. We had 21 corporate sponsors and just over 10,000 vehicles went through the display. This past year, our budget was much greater than $25,000, we had 135 corporate sponsors and just under 30,000 vehicles toured the display!

NPN: You were General Manager during the years that Leap-The-Dips underwent its massive restoration. What was it like to be part of a team that accomplished such a daunting historical feat?

Barry: I was very proud to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Leap-The-Dips Preservation Foundation, the non-profit group comprised of local business leaders that raised the funds necessary to restore Leap-The-Dips. Those people met every month, had fundraisers, gave of their time, talent and treasures, to help assure that this roller coaster had a home here at Lakemont Park. It was actually quite a rewarding experience!!

NPN: What are some of the unique challenges that come with maintaining a roller coaster as old as Leap-The-Dips?

Barry: Although quite smaller than our other wooden roller coaster (the Skyliner), the Leap-The-Dips requires much more maintenance than the Skyliner. Every year it seems as though we are replacing several pallet loads of lumber and the cars require constant maintenance. Our staff does a very good job in assuring that the Leap-The-Dips is operational nearly every day as we understand that we have guests that travel long distances on occasion just to ride it.

NPN: The enthusiast community obviously has a very healthy appreciation for Leap-The-Dips. What is the general public's reaction to this last-of-its-kind classic ride? Do you think they appreciate its significance?

Barry: I can't say enough about how wonderful the park enthusiasts in general and the coaster enthusiasts in particular have been at supporting the effort to restore the Leap-The-Dips and to patronize the park now that the Leap-The-Dips is operational. Unfortunately, I don't believe that the local community has this same passion for what has been accomplished here.

NPN: What prompted the decision to remove the Mad Mouse back in 2003? Will we ever see another full-scale steel coaster at Lakemont?

Barry: We took the Mad Mouse out after an independent engineering firm had inspected the ride and had advised us that within a very short period of time (2-3 years), the ride was going to require considerably more annual maintenance. Barring any unforseen circumstances, there is no chance that you will ever see a "full-scale" steel coaster at Lakemont Park.

NPN: Will we see anything new at Lakemont Park or the Island Waterpark in 2009?

Barry: As you may or may not be aware, the road that runs parallel to Lakemont Park (Park Avenue) is in the process of being converted from a two lane road to a five lane road with adjacent bicycle path and "green space". As we do not know what kind of impact this construction will have on our guests' ability to visit with us, we have opted not to pursue any new rides or attractions until the construction is complete in 2010 or 2011. Guests to the park will probably notice a change in our food and beverage operations. After 11 seasons with Boston Culinary as our food and beverage concessionaire, we have made a change to Bailey's Concessions. This change will result in new menu selections and more competitive pricing as well as food promotions throughout the season.
[Editor's Note: Read more about the Park Avenue expansion in our Lakemont Park update from a couple weeks ago.]

NPN: Do you foresee Lakemont Park and the Island Waterpark expanding in the future? Is the real estate even available for such an expansion?

Barry: We have PLENTY OF ROOM to expand, what we need is a government bailout!!!

NPN: If money and real estate were both freely available, what ride/attraction would you love to bring to Lakemont Park and/or the Island Waterpark, and why?

Barry: If money were not an issue, I would add a wave pool and a steel coaster. These two attractions would seperate us from our two closest competitors, DelGrosso's and Idlewild.

NPN: Do you have any additional comments or information you'd like to share with our readers?

Barry: I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has visited Lakemont Park in the past. If you haven't visited with us in the past number of years, please plan to do so. While we do not have any of the major thrill rides of today, we do have a very nice product at a very competitive price. Stop in the office, ask for me, say that you read my interview on NewsPlusNotes and I will be happy to show you around!!

The NewPlusNotes team sincerely thanks Barry Kumpf for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts with the enthusiast community. Lakemont Park truly is a gem, and we wish the best of luck to Barry and his staff as they lead this wonderful traditional park into the future. If you happen to be traveling through Pennsylvania this summer, be sure to pay them a visit! One spin on Leap-The-Dips and you just may fall in love with the industry all over again...


dwitos079 said...

What a great interview. It makes me want to visit this park. If this is anything like Knoebels or Waldameer I will be thrilled. I see some ballot stuffing going on with viper haha.

Anonymous said...

I drove down Park Avenue in the offseason so I have to get this park.