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Families line up for the fun of opening day at Lagoon

SHARE Families line up for the fun of opening day at Lagoon
It’s fun to walk through the park and see people’s reactions to everything. We’re a family owned park made for families. We’re making memories here. – Julie Freed

FARMINGTON — Armando and Kristie Gutierrez have been waiting since Christmas to take the family to Lagoon.

They purchased season passes this year to have the privilege of returning again and again, but wouldn't have thought of missing opening day on Saturday.

"It's a beautiful day for it," Kristie Gutierrez said. "The kids are thrilled."

And sure enough, Tre, age 3, and Leah, age 4, giggled their way on and off one of the kiddie rides at the center of the local amusement park. The section, complete with bright colors and mood-lifting carnival music, hails among the biggest in the country catering to small children.

The couple intends to return for a few "date nights" throughout the summer, perhaps "taking in a show" or going through a couple of the park's six planned haunted houses during its annual Frightmares event beginning mid-September, said Armando Gutierrez.

"I like the idea of being able to come back and enjoy it a little bit at a time, rather than feel drained after one full day," he said, adding that he grew up going to the park many times each year, though it has expanded and changed much since then.

Lagoon, named for a small body of water inside its boundaries, first opened as a resort of the Great Salt Lake in 1886. It changed ownership and closed during World War II, later being purchased by Robert Freed, a former park manager. Ownership of the park has remained in the Freed family and 94-year-old Peter Freed still occasionally frequents his office just inside the park gates.

"It's a family owned company that makes you feel like it's your company, too," said Adam Leishman, Lagoon spokesman who has worked at the park for 25 years, beginning with seasonal entertainment and now working full-time, year-round. "It's fun to work someplace where the main thing is fun."

The park has grown from offering bowling, dancing and food, to having 54 rides, more than 50 carnival-style game booths, music and dancing shows, and food and treats galore, with funnel cakes, churros, grilled corn-on-the-cob and homemade ice cream being some of the favorites. Lagoon occupies 100 of its 150 acres of space, with room to grow.

Lagoon will be hosting its first half marathon, 10k and 5k race next weekend, with the last two miles winding through the park grounds prior to its opening. The park will also hold an Easter egg hunt on Sunday, giving kids up to 48 inches in height a chance at 10,000 candy- and toy-filled eggs.

"Everyone always wants to know what the park is like before it opens," said Julie Freed, director of special events at Lagoon and Peter Freed's granddaughter, who said she's worked nearly every function at the park before becoming part of management.

"It was very important to my grandfather and to my parents that we started where everyone else does," Julie Freed said. At least four Peter Freed descendants currently work at the park.

This year, the park has added Cannibal, a high-speed roller coaster with a 208-foot vertical lift, an underground tunnel, four inversions and three 60-foot waterfalls. Completion of the attraction was anticipated for opening day, but the coaster is still being tested and hasn't had any riders yet, Leishman said.

"Safety is always our top priority," said Jessica Platt, a rides supervisor who has been with the company for 18 years. She started working at Lagoon at age 14 and has stayed in the same department ever since.

Ride operators, Platt said, receive up to a week of training to learn how to safely monitor the highly technical, computer-based action attractions.

Circa Nosta, a returning musical entertainment act created specifically for Lagoon, will perform Beatles music this year. And the park has added food vendor Honolulu Dogs, which serves gourmet-style hot dogs with various fruit toppings, an idea hailing from the islands.

But perhaps the most unique component of Lagoon is that aside from its 250 year-round employees, the park hires 3,000 teenagers and young adults, some of whom come from international locales, every spring.

"We sometimes can't hire enough," Julie Freed said. Hiring employees over age 16 has been a challenge in the past, sending recruiters to other countries to sign on college students as part of an international study program.

"It's great exposure for our guests and employees," Leishman said, adding that the transplant employees also seem to enjoy their experience in Utah.

At least three of Lagoon's rides have landed on the National Historic Registry, including the hand-carved Carousel, the wooden Roller Coaster and Flying Aces. Several others have won top awards. Aside from an old swamp where ice was harvested, the park also boasts one of the only existing passenger steam-driven trains in the country.

And while the parking lots fill up quickly each day of the season, the best part for many of the employees is seeing Utah's families play together, ride rides together and enjoy the park together.

"It's fun to walk through the park and see people's reactions to everything," Julie Freed said. "We're a family owned park made for families. We're making memories here."

The park is open weekends until June 5, when it will be open daily until the season ends Oct. 30. For more information, visit www.lagoonpark.com.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards