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Columns

June 17, 2013

Upstate theme parks offered affordable thrills

I saw in the news last week that Disney theme parks are raising admission prices to almost $100 a person. Children (who Uncle Walt considers 10 and under) are now $86 a day.

But $100 a person? Really?

We had 10 in my family. If my parents today had decided in some crazy dream to take us all to Florida to see Mickey and Goofy, it would have set them back a grand at the door. And then you have to pay for everything else inside.

Oh, and Disney also just raised the price to park at the park. It would now cost my old man $16 to dock our block-long 1965 royal blue Ford Country Squire boat on wheels in the Disney World parking lot.

Not going to happen.

In my day, upstate New York was known as “Vacationland.” Little theme parks dotted the Catskill and Adirondack regions. Fantasyland, Storytown U.S.A., Frontier Town, Santa’s Workshop and all the rest were the Disneylands of my youth.

Two of my favorites were the Catskill Game Farm and Gaslight Village.

I probably went to the Game Farm a dozen times over my youth. It was one of the only places that kids could get up close and personal with birds, deer, llamas and snakes. It was a rustic place tucked into 200 acres of Catskill Mountain lushness.

One of my favorite memories, captured in glorious Super 8 color film by my dad, was feeding the bear. A large black bear sat way up atop a platform and a long wire ran from the platform down to the ground. One at a time, you would pay the attendant a nickel and he’d give you a handful of bear treats. You would place them into a tin can that was attached to the wire. At the signal, you would rattle the tin can and the bear would sense it was getting close to dinner time.

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