For Oaks Park: Ready, Set...but, no Go?
Few Oregonians, least of all the folks at Oaks Amusement Park in Sellwood, would contest the need to continue procedures to keep COVID-19 from spreading in this, a pandemic. But when Multnomah County saw fit to permit the Oregon Zoo to reopen with appropriate attendance restrictions – the requirement for advance appointments, and all necessary social distancing – Oaks Park believed that it would soon be afforded the same privilege.
After all, rather uniquely among institutions facing this pandemic, Oaks Park had already set up and operated an online reservation system which worked for over a year already. Like the zoo, its attractions are mainly outdoors – and similar social distancing and restricted attendance procedures, let alone continuous sanitizing of the rides in operation, were all ready to go.
But permission to open with appropriate restrictions just didn't arrive, and finally in late September Oaks Park pulled the plug and cancelled its season, since the amusement park would normally have to go dormant in the late fall, winter, and early spring anyway.
It was the first time since it opened in 1905 (one year before THE BEE was born) that it had to cancel its season; not even two world wars, two huge Willamette River floods, and a Great Depression did that.
And it's hard for us at THE BEE to understand why. Oaks Park seemed able meet every standard required of the zoo – but the zoo was allowed to be conditionally open, and Oaks Park was not.
Perhaps Multnomah County – the county that stopped supporting its own County Fair years ago, leaving it to a faithful corps of volunteers to keep it going (at Oaks Park!!) – doesn't realize that The Oaks, like the zoo, is not a commercial enterprise?
The amusement park's last private owners, the Bollinger family, were led by Robert Bollinger into rejecting any sale of the park, choosing instead to establish a 501c3 nonprofit organization called The Oaks Park Association "to preserve and perpetuate the historic amusement park as an affordable, safe, and family-friendly recreation attraction, open to the general public". No doubt it would have been closed and subdivided for lucrative development long ago, without this strategy to preserve it in perpetuity.
Oaks Park is as nonprofit as are the zoo and OMSI (both of which are open, with appropriate restrictions). It may well be the only nonprofit amusement park in the United States, or maybe even the world. It is also an historic treasure in Inner Southeast Portland, and a recreational resource for the Portland area.Unfortunately, this "season cancellation" may end Oaks Park's status as the longest continuously-operating amusement park in the country – even New York's Coney Island shut down for a while in the last century.
We hope it doesn't, because the staff remained on duty all year at Oaks Park, and the park has been hosting third-party events that meet social distancing guidelines, as you've read in THE BEE – prominent among which are the "drive-in movies" hosted by the Rose City Rollers, Portland's championship Roller Derby team, which is based at Oaks Park's "Hanger" building, near the radio tower; the Rose City Rollers' public roller skating events inside the park; and an elaborate drive-through Hallowe'en Haunted House feature in October.
The park even managed its own drive-by Oktoberfest this year – allowing people to sign up online for their sausage dogs, sauerkraut, German potato salad, apple strudel, and even German beer, and prepay for it – to then be there for pick up at assigned socially-distanced times on Saturday, October 10th. It was a fundraiser for the park, as its extremely popular regular Oktoberfest always has been; and we at THE BEE joined the community in ordering and picking up our own delicious Oktoberfest-dinner-to-go.
You see, the park is not really shut down; it's just not being permitted to operate any of its amusement park rides, games, and concessions. It would be really interesting to find out just why. And perhaps it might not be too late for a couple of weeks, or a month, of restricted operation before the winter closure, if somebody in the county government finally realizes that a mistake was made…
In the meantime, here's hoping historic, nonprofit, fun Oaks Amusement Park will be able to get back to doing what it does best by the time the 2021 season rolls around. They're already planning their in-person Oktoberfest on September 24-26 next year.
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