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Santa's Village is investing $1.3 million in seasonal theme park

Santa’s Village in Jefferson is installing this $900,000 custom-designed interactive water feature with a shallow pond as part of the $1.3 million investment it’s making before the park reopens on May 29. (Drawing by Advanced Animations of Stockbridge, Vt.) (click for larger version)
January 27, 2010
JEFFERSON — A new interactive water feature will be in place at Santa's Village this summer.

The family-owned-and-operated theme park anticipates spending $900,000 to purchase and install "HO-HO-H2O" within sight of Route 2, across from the Evergreen Motel, explained communications director Bruce Hicks, who is dubbed the park's chief elf.

This 6,400-square-foot attraction, manufactured by WhiteWater West Industries of Richmond, B.C., Canada, will feature a shallow eight-inch-deep wading pool in which youngsters can play and splash, along with ladders and slides on which they can be adventurous, plus water cannons and water jets, he said. Excavation has already begun, and installation is scheduled in May.

The new water feature follows on the successful introduction of the Penguin Splash at the end of the 2008 summer season. Originally planned as a quick cooling-off spot, the shallow Splash pad with pulsating water jets turned out to be a major draw, with youngsters of all ages getting soaking wet.

"The summer of 2009 was our first complete season in which the Penguin Splash was open, and it was tremendously popular," Mr. Hicks said. "We had to stock towels and flip-flops to sell in our shops; people weren't prepared, but they will be this summer."

The on-site well delivers 23 gallons of water a minute, and Ho-Ho-H2O recycles water continuously.

"We are also doing a major restoration of the classic Jingle Bell Theater and its Jingle Jamboree show, which has not operated for the last four seasons," Mr. Hicks said. "At one time this was a cutting-edge animated show, one of the first, which was closed down when it became too dated," he explained.

The new animatronics are being fabricated by Advanced Animations of Stockbridge, Vt., at a total cost expected to exceed $200,000. More sophisticated characters, such as Elfin-John, Maynard, Rudy and Elfis, that are new versions of the familiar-to-many old ones, as well as the same music themes and story line, will beef up Santa's indoor offerings.

Building renovations on that project, plus $20,000 to replace flooring in the small church and $30,000 to transform the Polar Express Station into the Polar Expresso coffee-and-noshes shop, are being worked on over a 10- to 12-week period by Lionel Cloutier, who operates L. M. Cloutier Construction of Groveton, and his associate Mark Robinson, also of Groveton.

"There is a ripple effect through the local economy when we make this kind of investment," Mr. Hicks pointed out.

The park's head carpenter, Pete Dubriel, keeps on eye on the competitiveness of price, customer service, and delivery schedules of potential suppliers.

Perras Lumber of Groveton makes deliveries every day. Many parts needed to keep rides and other elements of the park in working condition are readily available at either NAPA or Bond Auto Supply in Lancaster.

Allen Bouthillier of A. B. Logging, also of Lancaster, is providing yards of fill — four feet of crushed rock — to create an ultra-stable foundation for the new Ho-Ho-H2O feature.

Although the Village will feel very much the same when it reopens in on May 29, other changes are also planned. The arcade, for example, is being retired.

But the family-oriented fun will remain the park's centerpiece attraction, Mr. Hicks said.

"Coös needs more Grand Adventures, and we hope our new features and upgrades that will be in place this summer will help keep people here another night," he said.

Area motels and hotels — from the Hampton Inn in Littleton, to the Royalty in Gorham and the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, plus nearby Evergreen Motel, Lantern Motel and Campground, Jefferson Inn, and Applebrook B & B, as well as all the motels in Lancaster — benefit from the theme park's drawing power, and package deals help develop the synergy that lets families enjoy their vacations and brings dollars into the local economy.

In the summer months, Santa Village's website gets 60,000 hits a week, and 25 percent of them also click on the "Lodging" section.

Mr. Hicks said.

The park will once again be open during the pre-Christmas and Christmas season. "Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend all season," Mr. Hicks explained.

This year, Santa's Village will host its first "Partytime," geared for families as Father Time magically moves the hands of time 4 hours ahead, so even very young children will be able to celebrate this event from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Halloween openings are also planned on three days in October.

These changes and upgrades will allow Santa's Village to hire another year-round employee, bringing the roster up to 24, and add another four or five to the summer or seasonal, bringing that number to between 230 and 240, Mr. Hicks said.

Santa's remains a family owned-and-operated business. Ninety-year-old Cecile Dubois, who with her late husband Normand founded the park, still visits, checking out the park to make sure her favorite features are still intact.

The second-generation of owner-operators, Mike and Elaine Gainer of both Maidstone and Jefferson, have turned over much of the day-to-day operations to their two now-adult children and their spouses: Christian and Pam Gainer of Lancaster, who have two children; and Nick and Melanie Staley, who have three children.

"It's wonderful to have parents of young children on the management team," Mr. Hicks said. "They were the ones that understood, for example, that offering parents the option of arranging to have birthday parties at Santa's Village would be very popular."

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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