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New Lake George attractions struggle

Tallis O’Keefe, 4, stares down an animatronic dinosaur at Dino Roar Valley in Lake George in May 2019 during a preview of the park’s opening. Its owners didn’t make back their original investment the first summer, but local economic officials say things look promising for it going forward. (Provided photo — Kathleen Moore, The Post-Star)

In a summer town full of tourists, it is surprisingly hard to make certain tourist attractions work.

The region used to be full of small, family-owned outdoor entertainment, from Waterslide World to Frontier Town.

But in recent years, those land-based attractions have faded. Waterslide World has been closed for two years, despite promises to reopen. Frontier Town has become a campground. A more recent venture, the Eagle Flyer zipline at Wild West Ranch, closed last year after three years in operation. It was a $4.5 million investment.

Those losses have not discouraged other small business owners.

Two unique new summer attractions opened last summer: Dino Roar and Aerial Adventure. Both were eagerly embraced by the public. But the capital costs were so high that neither made back their investment during the short summer season.

At West Mountain, thrill-seekers leaped from tree to tree on the new Aerial Adventure ropes course.

But it opened just after schools closed for the year, missing that crucial spring field trip season. It endured a slow start in June and July.

By the end of the summer, it was gaining in popularity, co-owner Spencer Montgomery said.

“We started getting decent business by the end of the summer,” he said. “We expect the volume to increase dramatically. We built it and now we just gotta get the word out.”

He has told his investors they need to be patient. And that is the way to success, said EDC Warren County President Ed Bartholomew.

“You can’t get your results back in one year,” he said. “It takes some patient investors.”

Imagination is also key to bringing in customers, he said.

That’s what worked for Dino Roar, a new addition at what was a small amusement park for young children. Magic Forest, which opened in 1963, was becoming dated and struggling. But with dinosaurs that move and roar, families that had never even heard of Magic Forest were buying tickets.

At conferences and other events, people everywhere were excited by the idea of a dinosaur park, said Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Amanda Metzger.

Bartholomew saw similar reactions.

“I think that the concept of dinosaurs, particularly with small kids — they could tell you who ate plants and who ate wildlife, what their sizes are,” he said. “I think the future looks positive for Dino Roar.”

Both businesses need to expand their shoulder season to get more out of the short window of good weather in the Northeast, he added. He thinks Dino Roar will do well with that in the spring.

“I envision them looking at elementary schools in the area, nursery schools, just like Charley Wood and Great Escape did many years ago,” he said. “I think they’ll do very well.”

Both attractions are also on-trend, he said.

“People are looking for new types of adventures. Families are looking for more outdoor activities,” he said.

And people prefer things that look cool. They want something that looks great on social media. That is how businesses rise or fall today, he said.

“Older people may be coming here for the nostalgia. Their kids and grandkids want to identify what is fun on social media. You cannot downplay that,” he said.

But finding an on-trend, cool-looking business and getting investors is not enough.

Owners must be willing to change their offerings to stay popular, he said.

“Look at Great Escape. Six Flags is always looking for innovation and new rides to stay current,” he said.

Great Escape vastly improved and expanded its water park last summer and drew in more customers than ever before. Meanwhile, the nearby Waterslide World, which had not changed in years, remained closed all season.

The owner tried to sell the equipment last summer but got no takers. The park was once a trend-setter, offering the first wave pool in the area and drawing in crowds with other new attractions. But over time, other water parks far eclipsed it.

That means Dino Roar must keep changing — perhaps with improvements at Magic Forest, where many of the kiddie rides have been the same for decades.

At West Mountain, plans are already in the works for the next addition: a zipline down the mountain.

Competition for tourists around Lake George will continue to be tough, with most families no longer settling in for a week-long trip.

“It used to be you’d go up on a Saturday morning and stay until the next Saturday. That is no longer the trend. The trend is long weekends, Thursday to Sunday,” Bartholomew said.

But he sees the possibility of fighting against that trend as more enticing attractions open. If there’s not enough time to do everything, he said, it “gives people reason to stay one more day.”

“They see a new attraction — they’ll say, ‘Gee, we went to Great Escape, now maybe we’ll try West Mountain,'” he said. “Maybe the next time they want to come up, they’ll spend even more time.”

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