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Funland Revives for More Fun in Idaho Falls
Talley Amusements
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Idaho Falls is bringing the Fun back to the falls with a grand opening of a revived classic amusement park as Funland at the Zoo. Located in the city's Tautphaus Park, there's room for growth along with the nostalgia, with the town ready and willing to take on partners with family-friendly expansion ideas to invest in the future of the park.

The grand opening was August 12th, when ride wristbands were sold for $5 each, allowing visitors to enjoy the classic rides at a bargain price to contribute to restoring the rides.

The City of Idaho Falls purchased the Funland attractions in 2019, restoring the rides, and adding the amusement park property to the Zoo's own operation. Selling commemorative sponsorships and individual commemorative bricks as part of the funding, the restoration was under way. The park area now has new asphalt, lighting, and updated ride mechanicals.

Funland originally opened in 1947, offering rides such as a train, airplanes, a carousel, the Eli Wheel, and The Octopus. The Octopus was once known for its erratic and jerky motion, in part due to operation by unskilled workers post-World War II, but the revamped ride promises a smoother experience. It took three years to fully restore the rides to pristine working condition.

Along with the reopening of the amusement park, Idaho Falls Parks and Rec also held another important summer ribbon cutting, that of Leo Larsen Drive. The road, running next to the rides, is named after the former operator of the park, who ran the amusement location for 50 years.

According to Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation director PJ Holm, “It's exciting to open Funland again and remember Leo Larsen's legacy. Holm cites Larson's mentorship of the teens who worked at the park as equally important as his stewardship of the amusement park. “These workers learned the value of hard work and integrity and we hope Funland will continue this tradition.”

Coming up in 2024 there will be a few new attractions at the park, including a miniature golf course, and a train for the whole family that circles both the amusement park and the zoo itself. Already new landscaping has been done, and Funland Committee treasurer Theresa Flannery is looking for a full staff to support and run the park.

Flannery relates that approximately $500,000 in private donations have contributed to the park's refurbishment, including many locals that she says were delighted to contribute, recalling their own fond memories of enjoying the rides at the park. Some of the rides were initially constructed by the park's original owner, who built many of them from other items, some of which were left over from World War II. As an example, the bucket seats for the bucket plane ride were once the shell around a bomb, with chains added to it.

Other rides were more professionally built, such as The Eli Wheel, which was installed a few years later. It was built by W.E. Sullivan, owner of the Eli Bridge Company. The inventive creation originated from Sullivan's own first ride on a big wheel - the Chicago Wheel, which made its debut at the 1893 World's Fair in the windy city. Making Sullivan's own version of the ride that thrilled him as a child resulted in a collaboration with a talented machinist named James H. Clements. Their invention has stood the test of time.

Flannery describes it as “one of the oldest rides in the entire nation to be in its original location.”

The Funland wheel was not Sullivan's first spin around amusement attraction big wheel construction: his first effort, working together with Clements, made its debut in Jacksonville, Illinois' Central Park in 1900. That successful creation led to an incorporation, and a mass production of the wheels, of which Funland's is one. Today, the Eli Bridge Company is family owned and operated by the Sullivan family. Along with its classic Ferris wheels, the company's other amusement rides can also be enjoyed at amusement parks and carnivals throughout the U.S. Among them are the company's newest, the SpiderMania® ride, and the easily transportable Next Generation Mobile Scrambler.

The Eli Wheel was installed in the park during the late 1940s-early 1950s, at the same time that the Octopus, the original train ride, and the carousel were added. All the restored rides feature plaques that provide historical information about their inception and creation.

Along with the ride revamp, the log hut located next to Funland itself is being made available for parties and other occasion rentals. And a time capsule, scheduled to be reopened in 75 years, was placed under the park's plaza during the opening celebration, featuring photos and other commemorative information.

The park's revitalization is happening in phases, according to Dana Kirkham, president of the Funland committee. While the city is thoroughly committed to preserving the park's historical aspects, there will be many new additions to draw visitors and make the experience even more enjoyable. This includes a new entrance that will connect Funland's amusements to the zoo itself. Kirkham notes that “The goal is to connect the two with a joint entrance, where passes can be bought to enter one park or the other, or special passes to come in and out of both.”

While the park is presently closed for the season along with the zoo itself, the grand opening was a big success, with attendees not only enjoying the $5 wristbands available that evening, but free popcorn and ice cream as well. Following the grand reopening, the park was open for the season through Labor Day on weekends, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Ride tickets were $1 a piece, with 2 to 3 tickets required per ride.

“It's been a magical place in our community since 1947,” Mayor Rebecca Casper asserted. “With the help and support of many who have refreshed and renewed this location, we've been able to add the sparkle back into Funland so that it can once again shine as a city gem.”
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