It was a bit unusual to find Westchester County Executive George Latimer sitting on top of a horse Friday afternoon.
It wasn’t a real, live equine, but one that is part of the century-old Grand Carousel at Playland amusement park, which had its roof and 66 hand-carved horses significantly damaged in a 2017 fire.
Latimer, accompanied by a host of county officials, welcomed Playland back the day before its scheduled reopening on Saturday to the general public. Playland’s opening day is a bigger deal than usual after COVID-19 shuttered the 93-year-old facility last year.
He said the refurbishment of the Mangels-Carmel Carousel, part of more than $100 million in capital improvements that the public will see over the next few years, is emblematic of the park’s rebirth after some thought saving the ride was unnecessary.
While Playland has certainly had its ups and downs over the years, Latimer vowed that it will thrive for generations to come.
“We want you to appreciate that the restoration of that carousel is a symbol of our commitment to the tradition of this park, that this park existed long before any of us were in public office or had public responsibilities, and we respect that tradition, and that tradition will be renovated and revivified by the work we do all throughout the park,” Latimer said.
Another original ride on the other side of the park’s lawn is the Derby Racer, which has also been improved. It is one of only three steeplechase rides in the United States, where the horses moved back and forth as well as up and down to simulate a gallop.
Other capital improvements the county plans to undertake at the facility during the next couple of years is the overhaul of the Playland Parkway Pathway, rebuilding the roof of another popular ride, The Whip and modernizing the Cross Axis Games Building and Towers, the North Administration Building and the swimming pool. The pool is scheduled to reopen next summer.
In 2019, the county unveiled a new ride, the Dragonator.
While the county had planned June 26 as Playland’s opening day since earlier this year, it wasn’t known until recently what form that would take, said Kathy O’Connor, the commissioner of the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.
There had been frequently changing state guidelines, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this month that once the state reached the 70 percent vaccination threshold nearly all restrictions would be terminated. Officials were then able to assemble the workforce necessary to open the park by the scheduled date.
“Here it takes a massive effort to put Playland back together every year,” O’Connor said.
Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) said some other amusement parks throughout the country have not reopened because it has been difficult to find staffing. He lauded young adults and seniors who signed up to work to make this summer’s season possible.
Boykin said on Friday that the operation of Playland is important to the county and it was sorely missed during last year’s closure.
“That hurt all of us but now we’re here, tomorrow, reopening this park,” he said.
This will be the last summer that the county operates Playland, although it will continue to own the facility, Latimer said. Starting Dec. 1, New York City-based Standard Amusements will take over after several years of legal wrangling with Westchester.
Playland will be open Wednesday through Sunday through Labor Day weekend. It will also operate on two Mondays, July 5 and Sept. 6. Hours are 12 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 12 to 9 p.m. the other days of operation.
Admission is $20 per person for unlimited rides and $15 for a junior rider. County residents may come as a free spectator, while those who live outside of Westchester can get in for $10. Parking costs $10 per vehicle.
“Come and enjoy Playland,” Latimer said. “Come and enjoy it the way that people 50 and 70 years ago enjoyed it and let’s hope they’ll enjoy the park 50 years from now the same way.”
For more information, visit www.playlandpark.org.