It was a sad day for many children and their families Sunday as they arrived at Camden Park to find out it wasn't open because of a fire. Many were just learning about the loss of a piece of local history, the decades old Dodgem' ride at the amusement park. The facility opened in 1903.
Evelyn Hunter turned 5 years old Sunday. She wanted one thing for her birthday. Her dad Earl said she had been asking to go to Camden Park for over a month. But when the family arrived at the entrance to the park Sunday, after traveling from Beckley, they learned this was one birthday wish that wasn't going to come true.
"That is all we have heard all day long on the way down here," Earl Hunter said, describing that Evelyn kept asking if they were there yet.
Linda Parker and her family made the trip from Yawkey in Lincoln County. They arrived, as the Hunter family did, to locked gates and a nearly empty parking lot.
Park employees and others worked throughout the day to clean up what was left of the Dodgem' ride. It was a bumper car style attraction that the Ride Supervisor for Camden Park Shawn Wellman said was installed in the 1940's.
"The kids could come back and if they were hungry get a cookie or get some water or some soda and then go right back to riding their rides," Parker explained, remembering summers spent at Camden Park with the family in the past. The kids she had along Sunday belong to her 33 year old niece, who went to the park when she was a child. Parker described the sense of nostalgia among people who visit the park.
"They brought their kids here and now their kids are having kids," Parker said. "They wanted them to see the same kind of things that their kids saw when they were little."
The Parker family parked their vehicles nearby to try to come up with another way to spend their day. They said they had hoped to make new memories this weekend. But instead they'll be trying to forget the images of the smoldering building and their favorite rides sitting still and vacant on a day that was supposed to be filled with fun.
Some of the people arriving at the park Sunday complained that the park website and automated answering service didn't alert them to the closure before they made the trip.
Ride Supervisor Shawn Wellman said they are hoping to clean up the mess, do a little quick remodeling, and have the park back open by Tuesday.