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The summer fun is closer than you think

Last week we visited two amusement parks in Pennsylvania – Waldameer and Conneaut Lake. This week we visit two gems in New York that are geared more for the younger set, but are still loads of inexpensive fun.

Again these parks were originally trolley parks, created to encourage riding on weekends. In the case of Olcott Beach Carousel Park, be sure to check out the plaque located at Krull Park next door to see pictures of the magnificent hotels and amusements that graced the shores of Lake Ontario. A ferry would bring Canadians to the park, too.

Midway State Park • Bemus Point

Midway was established as a trolley park in 1898 and ranks 16th of the oldest continually operating parks in the nation. The state purchased the park in 2006. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March 2009.

“We believe that preserving the past is important because it allows future generations to learn,” said Christine Wilson, a parks and recreation aide, who has her own fond memories of Midway.

Among the park’s rides are a 1951 Mangles Roto Whip, 1947 Sellner Tilt-A-Whirl and 1951 Hampton Tubs of Fun. Allan Herschell is well-represented by the 1956 Roadway, 1958 Helicopter, 1956 Kiddie Coaster and, of course, the 1946 carousel.

The recently established Friends of Midway State Park organization raises funds for restoration. It has been instrumental in helping restore the Chautauqua Choo-Choo and carousel.

This season, the carousel returns to its rebuilt roundhouse shelter.

“It’s similar to how it would have looked when it was first built in 1928,” Wilson said.

The paint has worn off the horses, and the park is offering sponsorships to restore them through Friends of Midway State Park, but the young toddler we saw didn’t mind one bit on what appeared to be her first-ever whirl around a carousel.

The park is a manageable size, especially for the little ones, as they can go from ride to ride (over and over again).

The old handcarts were a big hit. The child uses his or her hands to turn the wheels to move. As one mother noted with a sly smile, “It really tires him out.”

The older kids enjoyed the bumper cars and go-karts.

Plans are in the works to restore the roller skating rink on the top floor of the original bathhouse. Wilson hopes that in four or five years it will be completed so the next generation can skate and enjoy spectacular views of Chautauqua Lake.

“Too often history is forgotten or lost, and with it the lessons learned and the knowledge acquired with it is also lost,” Wilson said. “History is important for us at Midway because it allows people to show their children and grandchildren a place they experienced as a child.”

Open: Rides run noon to 7 p.m. weekends through today, then Wednesday-Sunday, and Labor Day. Call 386-3165 for information. Extras: Free admission and parking. Wristbands for rides $8-$20. Individual rides $1-$11. Large picnic area with grills, museum, gift shop and concessions.

Drive: About 90 minutes from Buffalo. Age: Mostly kiddie-tween.

Olcott Beach Carousel Park • Main Street, Olcott

Volunteers are dedicated to bringing back this 1940s-50s kiddie park that was once the site of the Olcott Amusement Park (1942-1986).

The jewel is the 1928 Allan Herschell two-row carousel built in North Tonawanda that’s similar to the park’s original. There are five, fully restored vintage rides: a 1946 Herschell Kiddie Auto/Fire Truck (original to Olcott); 1940 Herschell Sky Fighter; 1940 Mahogany Boat Ride; 1950 Rocket Swing; and Kiddy Ferris Wheel. The 1931 Wurlitzer Band Organ plays for guests, too.

Rosemary Sansone is the president of the nonprofit corporation and manages the park.

“I went to Olcott each summer as a child in the ’50s. My father worked at Harrison Radiator in Lockport, and the company would sponsor a picnic there each summer. I had wonderful memories of it.”

When Sansone moved to Olcott 13 years ago, there were empty, deteriorating buildings and the boarded-up carousel building.

“People would stop at the fence around the lot with their kids and grandkids and tell them about how Olcott used to be. I thought something should be done before there was nobody left to tell their memories. I spearheaded the movement to raise money to put a kiddie park in the old location.”

The results are remarkable. The youngsters we observed were having a blast. (We did, too, rolling the smooth wooden Skee Balls and laughing with the silly Happy Feet foot massager.)

The whole place is geared toward the very young. (Actually, riders have to be under 52 inches.) The folks running the rides were grandparent-age, welcoming the children to each venue.

A group of volunteers helps Sansone by donating time to bring the park back.

She credits volunteer Tom Hahn with maintaining the rides and Dan Wilke, who mans the vintage Wurlitzer Band organ.

“They are very proud of the park and enjoy seeing children laughing and having a good time. One of my proudest moments was when a woman looked around at the park and said, ‘I donate to a lot of charities. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen where the money I donate goes,’ ” Sansone said.

Open: In June, Noon-8 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. July through Labor Day, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, Sunday (and Labor Day); noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays. All rides are 25 cents. There is an arcade with Skee Ball and a “Pick Up The Duck” pond. The Rustic Theater is a replica of the original, where Theodore Roosevelt once spoke to a crowd of 12,000.

Drive: About an hour from Buffalo. Age: Kiddie.