FARMINGTON — It’s what fun … was?
Here in the throes of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Lagoon’s "It’s what fun is" slogan seems to have lost a bit of its luster.
The popular Utah amusement park was originally scheduled to open this past weekend, but COVID-19 and its accompanying social distancing has pretty much shut down virtually all fun outside the walls of our own homes. And with little else to do these days, this seems like as good a time as any to offer a few updates on what many in Northern Utah would describe as the second happiest place on earth.
• UPDATE ONE: It looks like Lagoon isn’t opening anytime soon.
The home page at the lagoonpark.com website shows an artistic sunset photograph of the park’s weathered wooden roller coaster, taken from the point of view of staring up the track toward that first big drop. Superimposed across the photo are the words “Together we will ride this out.”
That pretty much sums up the feeling at Lagoon these days, according to company spokesman Adam Leishman. The park was supposed to open this past Saturday, and Leishman said a lot of people spent a lot of time over the winter working toward opening day.
“We start prepping for the new year well before the finishing of the previous year,” Leishman said. “We’ve been building up to this weekend for months and months and months.”
But COVID-19 had other plans.
Leishman said Lagoon officials are frustrated that they can’t open at this point, but safety is their top priority.
“We’re disappointed for ourselves, and we’re disappointed for our guests,” he said.
Leishman said the amusement park is ready to open, but the situation is somewhat fluid.
“Right now, the board of health directive (closing mass gatherings of people) goes through April 1, with the likelihood of that being extended,” he said. “But the minute they say go, we’ll go.”
In the meantime, Leishman said they’ll continue “plugging along” in any way they can to prepare for the season. They’ve moved a lot of the orientation and training online for the roughly 3,000 employees who work there. And while some training is conducted in the park, Leishman said they’re adhering to the government’s guidelines on COVID-19 — fewer than 10 employees at a time, and always keeping the six-foot social distancing recommendation.
“And if people are uncomfortable coming to our on-site trainings, which are very limited, we’ll work with them,” he said.
• UPDATE TWO: When Lagoon opens, a new ride awaits.
While Lagoon is known for adrenalin-inducing thrill rides with wild names like Cannibal, Rocket, Samurai, Wicked and Colossus: The Fire Dragon, Leishman said the amusement park also has one of the biggest “kiddie lands” in the nation — if not the biggest. It makes sense, after all, with Utah sort of being the country’s “epicenter for children,” according to Leishman.
This year, Lagoon is adding a new ride. Leishman describes it as a “family ride” that children and their parents can experience together, but beyond that he wouldn’t say much more.
“It’s not a coaster ride,” he said of the new addition. “Hmmm, what’s a good example? It’s neither a flat ride nor a coaster.”
Examples of current family rides at the park are things like BomBora, Dinosaur Drop, OdySea, and Puff the Little Fire Dragon. Leishman is tight-lipped about how the new ride compares to these.
“It’s similar in many ways, and unlike them in others,” he said mysteriously.
And that’s the thing about Lagoon spokespersons: It would take nothing short of a waterboarding ride to get one of them to spill the beans about a coming attraction at the park.
“Basically, we work hard on this stuff, and it’s fun for us to have a few surprises,” Leishman said. “I suppose if you know a kid doing training here he would tell you what it is, but we like people to be surprised when they see it for the first time.”
• UPDATE THREE: Speaking of surprises, what’s up with the big new thrill ride Lagoon has been working on for the last couple of years?
Basically, it’s the elephant in the room — that huge monstrosity of a structure going up in a massive construction site on the north end of the park.
“It is getting taller and taller,” Leishman said. “It’s still in progress, we’re still working away on it.”
Again, as with all new rides at Lagoon, Leishman wouldn’t offer any details. The only thing he would say:
“It’s going to be something,” he said. “It’s really going to be something.”
Of course, with 200 West in Farmington running parallel to the construction site, Leishman invites folks to draw their own conclusions.
“You can literally walk down that road and make some assumptions,” he said.
But while Lagoon won’t say anything, Clinton resident Ian Christensen is more than happy to offer his thoughts. Christensen is the creator of the Utah Coaster Enthusiasts group.
“It’s a group of one, basically,” he says of his loose organization.
Utah Coaster Enthusiasts has a Facebook page as well as a YouTube channel, two sites dedicated to all things amusement park-related in the state of Utah.
“I’ve always been a fan of science and stuff like that,” Christensen said.
As a teenager, Christensen worked five summers at Lagoon — including time with the park’s famous wooden roller coaster. That love of science and amusement parks morphed into Christensen’s passion for his Utah Coaster Enthusiasts group.
Because he focuses on what’s happening in Utah, most of Christensen’s efforts involve Lagoon. He is, however, writing a book and producing a documentary about Saltair, where the state’s first coaster was built. Christensen also designs roller coasters as a hobby, and he puts the virtual rides on his YouTube channel.
Although Lagoon hasn’t revealed the new ride’s name, the smart money is on “Primordial.” A search of public records turned up a Lagoon application for trademarking that name, according to Christensen.
“They could always change, but I haven’t seen another name, so I’d call it Primordial,” Christensen said.
Christensen says Lagoon has always been coy about new rides.
“When they were building Cannibal, they denied everything — even when the ride was finished and sitting there,” he laughed. “When you have a 200-foot roller coaster sitting there, you can’t say you’re not doing anything.”
As for the ride itself, from what he’s seen Christensen said it looks to be a roller coaster being built in and around a man-made mountain. Christensen speculates that it will be similar to Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, a dark-ride roller coaster at an amusement park in Ontario. That ride features roller coaster sections, drop tracks and interactive 3-D animations.
“This is going to be like a 2.0 version of that,” Christensen predicted.
As for when the new ride will debut, Leishman has no comment. He said that anytime you’re dealing with design and construction in the amusement park business, it’s a “constant state of flux.” And that ambiguity on the ride’s eventual opening date is somewhat intentional.
“We don’t want to give a solid date and have people disappointed,” Leishman said. “We’ll have a more substantial date on its opening in the next year or two. In the past we’ve projected 2020, 2021 and 2022 … but it’s tricky to pinpoint a real date.”
However, there is one bit of good news in all of this. According to Leishman, the pandemic restrictions haven’t affected progress on the new ride.
“What’s going on now at the construction site is not currently affected” by the coronavirus measures, Leishman assured.
Returning to the upcoming 2020 season Leishman said he realizes guests, especially those who’ve already purchased their season passes, are both excited and frustrated.
“We’re all in kind of the same boat — just waiting — and we appreciate the patience of our guests,” he said. “But I can say with confidence that we will open at some point. Our operating season is 150 days, and a season pass pays for itself after two visits, so I’m confident that we’ll have a great destination this year — like we always do.”