Canobie Lake Park preps for summer 2020

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Victoria Brady, left, and Grace Pierog train on the Yankee Cannonball wooden roller coaster ride at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. The park is getting ready to open up on July 16 with social distancing measures in place. Photo/Tim Jean, Eagle-Tribune

Story Produced by The Eagle Tribune, a member of

SALEM, NH — Masked park employees were testing roller coasters, cleaning and prepping the park on a July morning that would typically have lured guests to the lakeside amusement park.

They were preparing for Canobie Lake Park‘s opening on July 16 — two months later than expected after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the entertainment industry.

“It’s not going to be the product (guests) have known and loved for the past 100 years — it’s different,” said Chris Nicoli, the park’s media and entertainment manager.

This summer there won’t be a crowded day at the park because park guests will be required to make reservations to ensure the park doesn’t exceed 25 percent capacity in the first few weeks, Nicoli said. Once in the park, guests over the age of 3 will be required to wear a face-covering around the mouth and nose, such as a surgical mask or cloth mask, anytime they are not riding a ride, eating or in a mask-free rest area. Despite the changes, employees are working to make the 65-acre outdoor space a great entertainment venue, Nicoli said. 

Instead of hula-hooping and dancing close to people, the Canobie Lake Park’s Fun Squad is going to don Ghostbuster-like backpacks full of hand sanitizer that they can spray and help encourage social distancing while still having fun, Nicoli explained. There’s also going to be a lot of social distancing markers and staff ensuring that groups stay at least six feet from each other, he added.

Chairs sit six feet apart in the Castaway Island water-themed area as Chris Nicoli, media and entertainment manager, talks about the social distancing measures in place at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. Photo/Tim Jean, Eagle Tribune

“People don’t need to come to an amusement park — it’s not essential — but they are going to come because they know we are going to do it right and feel safe,” Nicoli said.

Park guests and employees will be screened for potential COVID-19 symptoms before they come into the park by getting their temperature taken and asked a series of questions.

Employees will also be separated into groups to work together in specific areas to make it easier to contact trace if someone were to get sick and hopefully prevent an outbreak, Nicoli said.

Despite this year being different, Nicoli was encouraged by the employees’ responses during the months of limbo while state officials were deciding if amusement parks in the state could open. Within 24-hours of opening job applications for seasonal workers over 500 people applied, he said.

Currently, there are enough employees to open the park, though they are still hiring. Interviews and training are all being held virtually, he said. However, the family-like camaraderie between employees, once they are back in the park, is still there and it’s essential to ensure the park is safe for everyone, he said.

Staff member Sarah Hills, 19, of Danville, was happily cleaning a photo booth at the park Wednesday. Having worked at the park for five years she was happy to come back, and knows that her job description includes more cleaning this year as the park takes extra precautions, she said.

Sarah Hills, 19, of Danville cleans the glass on a photo both at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire.Photo/Tim Jean, Eagle-Tribune

“We owe it to our guests, team and community to have a safe environment,” Nicoli said, while explaining the state and federal guidelines the park is abiding by. “Our guests need us now more than ever with kids having been out of school and people being at home, and we have to prove to our guests that we can do this in a proper way.” 

The park is encouraging people particularly from high-risk groups to come back when they feel safe, Nicoli said, explaining that 2020 season passes and tickets will be honored next year. The park has made an instructional video posted on its website that describes what the expectations for guests are for people to decide if they want to visit this year, he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu allowed amusement parks across the state to open as of June 29 along with other still-closed businesses like movie theaters and performing arts venues. He also didn’t recommend anyone over 60-years-old or with pre-existing health conditions that could make COVID-19 more deadly go to these venues.

“We aren’t going to prevent it, but if you are over 60 or have an underlying health condition, I would not advise it,” Sununu said. “People can make their own personal decisions, but there is a lot of risk, to be sure.”

Signs on the ground remind future guests to stay six feet apart near the Castaway Island water-themed areas at Canobie Lake Park in Salem. Photo/Tim Jean, Eagle-Tribune

Last week Santa’s Village, an amusement park in Jeffersonville, opened and Storyland in Glen is set to open on July 17, according to its website. Two miles south of Canobie Lake Park in Massachusetts there is no set date for when amusement parks can reopen, which is part of phase 4, according to Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plans.

Nicoli expects as more parks open there will be changes to make things safer.

“Our industry wants to do this as a whole and do it safely,” he said. “As more places open there will be more opportunity to see what works. We can prove that we can do it, and now we get a chance to do it safely.”

Nicoli emphasized that overall downward trends of COVID-19 cases in the northeast is also a promising sign for the amusement park.

“The Massachusetts and New Hampshire numbers are looking good and going down because people are taking this seriously,” Nicoli said. “These trends make us feel really good that the craziness we are going through to stay compliant is worth it.” 

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