Kids can enjoy the amusement rides in City Park for free, starting in August

City Park, July 2, 2018 — photo by Zak Neumann

The amusement rides in City Park will be dismantled after the season ends on Sept. 23, but before the train that has carried young passengers for almost 70 years makes its final run, kids will be able to enjoy all the rides for free, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department announced on Monday. The rides will be free every day during August, and on weekends in September.

Earlier this month, Parks and Recreation Director Juli Seydell Johnson explained that a combination of the expenses involved in repairing and maintaining the aging rides, and the fact that the current amusement area isn’t in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, led to the decision to eliminate the rides.

“As we look at how we can rejuvenate that entire park area, we’re going to move to an inclusive, larger adventure playground instead,” Seydell Johnson said. “It’ll be a change, but we think it’ll be a fun and exciting change.”

Exactly what the new adventure playground will include hasn’t been determined yet.

The amusement rides date back to 1952, when the Drollinger family first set up the train.

“I think the first year [1952], my grandfather took in $1,000 or $1,200 in a summer, and he thought it was a goldmine,” Guy Drollinger told Little Village when the city announced it was shuttering the rides. “It continued to take about that much,” he added, with a laugh. “But, of course, as time went on that was less and less and less money.”

The family sold the rides to the city in 1999. By then, the cost of insurance for the rides was about the same as the amount of money generated by the 75-cent tickets, according to Drollinger.

Monday, July 2, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Of course, running the rides was never really about making money, Drollinger explained.

“There are a lot of memories,” he said. “One thing you’d see every year was young parents would come up with three or four little kids and buy tickets for the merry-go-round, but one of the kids would be too afraid to ride it. But over and over, it seemed like the children who were afraid at first were the ones who came to love the merry-go-round most of all.”

The rides in City Park are open from 1-7 p.m. daily through August 19. Starting August 20, the rides will be open from 1-6 p.m. on weekends through Sunday, September 23.