Idlewild & Soakzone, a family-style amusement and water park along the Lincoln Highway in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, is set to be sold to Parques Reunidos, a Spanish company that manages 61 parks in Europe and America. Starting as a picnic grove for the Ligonier Valley Railroad in 1878, rides were added in 1931, and Story Book Forest fairy tale park in 1956 (a rare survivor of that era). It also includes an official Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Of Make Believe trolley ride and a Lincoln Highway-themed photo-op created by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (as seen below in their photo):
Idlewild has been operated since 1983 by Kennywood Entertainment, a family-owned company that also operates two vintage parks in New England and two properties not far from the Lincoln Highway near Pittsburgh: a water park and Kennywood Park in West Mifflin. Kennywood Park itself is an institution; starting as a trolley park in 1896, it was purchased in 1906 by F.W. Henninger and Andrew McSwigan, whose familes have owned and operated it since. It’s also within walking distance of where I’ve lived my entire life, so friends are quite impassioned about the surprise announcement. Both parks are full of vintage rides such as Kennywood’s Auto Ride at left.
Commentors to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are overwhelmingly concerned about the changes a large corporation might bring, and that the cherished American sites will be owned by an overseas firm. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review likewise reports that people in the Ligonier Valley have mixed emotions, hoping that promises to maintain Idlewild’s atmosphere will prevail over corporate cost-cutting. Kennywood’s current owners assure the public that the new company is committed to maintaining everything that people love about the parks.
Another Trib article says that half the new owner’s parks (in fact, the 33 US locations) were just bought in October:
Parques Reunidos has grown quickly since its acquisition in January by the London-based Candover private equity investment fund for $1.22 billion. Kennywood said the Spanish company approached its owners with an offer as part of a plan to expand its ownership of family entertainment venues worldwide.