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Darien Lake now linked to Dollywood

Darien Lake Theme Park Resort is now managed by the same company as singer Dolly Parton's Dollywood.

Georgia-based Herschend Family Entertainment has begun overseeing all day-to-day activities and now supervises the park's 3,500 full-time and seasonal employees.

The senior vice president of CNL Lifestyle Properties Inc., which owns the park, said visitors can expect a higher level of guest service and cleanliness.

"There will be new entertainment and new shows," Curt Caffey said. "HFE will continue to help the park evolve into the entertainment experience everyone in New York expects it to be."

The North American editor of trade magazine Park World, Paul Ruben, praised the move. "I think you're gonna see a well-conceived, well-operated park, perhaps with additional theming introduced. The quality of food and entertainment may go up. [HFE] brings in people who do crafts in the park."

Caffey said HFE was chosen because of HFE's track record of safe, high-quality parks, such as Dollywood, which has won an award for being the best American regional theme park.

"These people have a lot of experience operating theme parks," Ruben said. Every visit I have had, I have found very entertaining. The parks are innovative and have a very unique style about them."

The companies reached an agreement Monday. HFE is already on the grounds.

Darien Lake General Manager Chris Thorpe said specifics about any new attractions for the coming season may come in the spring but that no decisions have been made thus far.

Thorpe also said the park is performing strongly. "Attendance has been very good. It's a very strong-performing park. We've had many consecutive years of growth."

HFE owns or is a partner in 24 recreational properties in eight states. That includes its original theme park, Silver Dollar City, in Branson, Mo. It now manages another CNL park, Colorado's Elitch Gardens.

CNL owns 151 recreational attractions and sites in North America. The Orlando, Fla.-based company has properties for golfing, skiing and elderly housing.

The management decision follows the theme park's November termination of its arrangement with Jacksonville, Fla.-based PARC Management. PARC Management briefly owned the company before selling it to CNL and then leasing the property.

The theme park was sold by industry behemoth Six Flags in late 2007 after a bankruptcy forced a reorganization. Darien Lake is New York State's largest theme and water park resort.

e-mail: vsherry@buffnews.com

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