Friday, October 20, 2006

Open at Last!

Open at Last!
Family Park Debut a Link To The Past
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

A bird's-eye view of Vacaville's Nut Tree Family Park from the top of the Harvest express rollercoaster is shown. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

"Can we ride it again, Mom?"

That plea, along with a "pretty please" and maybe even some sugar on top, is bound to echo throughout the Nut Tree Family Park today as it celebrates its long-awaited grand opening.

The 3.7-acre amusement park and its smattering of kiddie rides represent a small sliver of a larger, 76-acre redevelopment project spearheaded by Larkspur-based Snell&Co. But of the restaurants, shops, and offices that will gradually populate the project, it has the tallest order to fill - to connect the present with the past.

Through re-creations, refurbishments and even refreshments, the admission-free Family Park pays homage to the original Nut Tree and its nearly 80-year history.

Harbison House, the Nut Tree founders' 1907 home, sits at the heart of the park and will function as a museum, post-restoration.

"It's going to look the same on the outside," noted Roy Moehrke, who worked for the Nut Tree's design and retail departments for more than three decades. And, he added, people will recognize the ticket booth as the Nut Tree's old ice cream pavilion, as well as a new stable of hobby horses and the restored Engine No. 5 steam engine replica and its train circling the park.

"There's going to be a lot of people saying it isn't what it was, but it can't be," Moehrke said. "It just can't be. Anytime you bring something back it won't be the same."

Carol Yount, another veteran Nut Tree employee, agreed. But, she said, "This new project is exciting, and it's going to be fun."

The train in particular will spark nostalgia, she said.

"If you're out there when that train comes around that little bend, people are going to start telling stories - their Nut Tree stories," Yount predicted. "It's going to just rekindle all those memories, just seeing that train."

The park is effectively "bringing back a very important part of California history," said its Operations Manager John Mann, who served previously as deputy director and chief operating officer for the San Francisco Zoo.

Family Park visitors can expect "a fantastic time," Mann said. "We want to offer a wonderful family experience that is multi-generational."

Also noteworthy, he said, is "you can spend nothing if you want, or as much as you like. We're not saying you have to pay to play." Riding the hobby horses and enjoying the grounds, for example, cost nothing.

But for those who will be opening their wallets, expect to pay anywhere from two to four tickets, or $1.70 to $3.40, per ride, per person. Packages of 10 and 20 tickets can be purchased for $8.50 and $17, respectively, or an unlimited ride wristband costs $16.95 per person. There's also a family special: $39.99 buys 50 ride tickets and 20 redemption game tokens for the games building. Charter memberships, which include a season pass, are also available online, at the park, or at Nugget Markets.

Though some locals have balked at the costs, Mann contends it's a good value for the entertainment dollar. "I think it's very reasonable given other amusement venues," he said.

Attendance at the park is expected to be high, due to the sheer volume of traffic along Interstate 80, said Snell&Co.'s Lori Cowen, the Family Park's project manager. Hopefully, she said, people will stop, shop, dine and play at the new Nut Tree.

"This is truly a destination for all generations," she said. "We are extremely proud and very happy to share this project with the public," she said of the Family Park. Despite weather setbacks that delayed its opening two months, she said, "It has exceeded our expectations."

In an e-mail to The Reporter, developer Roger Snell noted his company is "thrilled to develop this exciting new California landmark. We look forward to the new Nut Tree creating generations of fun."

The Nut Tree Family Park is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday to Sunday.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

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