By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — With any luck, this will be a big year for North Tonawanda’s Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.
Museum director Rae Proefrock said that in addition to a full slate of events and activities, this season should finally see the grand opening of the long-awaited Kiddieland rides in the lot adjacent to the museum at 180 Thompson St.
“We have an extremely busy season and we start work again April 15 on Kiddieland,” she said. “We’re going to be cautious and open Kiddieland during Canal Fest. It might be open before then; we might have a soft opening, but we plan to have a opening event at Canal Fest.”
The pony cart ride, kiddie helicopter ride and kiddie boat ride from the old Page’s Whistle Pig in Niagara Falls, as well as a kiddie car ride from another donor, were all constructed in the 1940s and 1950s in the building that now houses the museum.
Concrete pads and wooden shelters currently await the rides, but metal roofs and doors, paving stones and landscaping still need to be added. In addition, the helicopter ride will be returning soon from a much-needed restoration, Proefrock said.
“Les Powers, owner of Powers Great American Midways, which does Canal Fest every year ... has taken the helicopter ride to his shop in North Carolina and completely restored it,” she said. “It’s going to come back brand-new, sparkling beautiful.
“That’s an incredible gift. It would have cost a fortune to do this.”
Powers also donated funds to build pavilions for the rides, Proefrock said.
The Kiddieland rides will be considered an exhibit of the museum, so people will pay regular museum rates for admission. As with the building’s large 1916 and small 1940s aluminum carrousels, visitors will receive one token with admission, but can purchase addition tokens for 50 cents.
To start, the new rides will not be running each time the museum opens its doors, Proefrock said. Plans call for them to be open to the public Wednesday afternoons, Saturday and Sunday.
“For this first season, we’re not going to have it open every day,” she said. “We figured we better start slowly and address any question that come up in a timely manner, so next year we can open more.”
The museum’s spring hours will be noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays through mid-June, when summer hours begin.
While a few months remain until the new rides will open, the museum’s calendar remains full. The annual birthday celebration for company founder Allen Herschell will take place April 27, followed by a Mother’s Day celebration May 12, the Brass Ring Thing XIII Renaissance Festival on June 1, New York Heritage Weekend on June 8 and 9, a Father’s Day celebration June 16 and the museum’s 30th anniversary celebration July 14.
Other annual events include the Teddy Bear Picnic on Aug. 8, the Halloween Spooktacular on Oct. 18, Santa on the Carrousel on Nov 30 and Dec. 7, 14 and 21 and other festivities.
One new feature on the calendar is a twice-monthly, hour-long tour, which takes place from 1 to 2 p.m. the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month through November. The tours are included with museum admission and depart from the museum’s main entrance hall. No reservations are needed.
Samantha Chavanne, a museum educator, said she’s working on two weeklong summer camps for the museum: Classic Carrousels Camp for students in kindergarten through second grade will take place from 9 a.m. to noon July 22 to 26, while Carrousels Through the Ages Camp for students in grades three to five will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 12 to 16.
Chavanne said the museum is also expanding outward, working on lessons aligned with the new Common Core standards to go into after-school programs.
“They’re very interactive and hands-on activities,” she said.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum opens today for its 2013 season. • WHEN: Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sunday until mid-June, when the schedule goes to seven days a week. • WHERE: 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda. • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 693-1885, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.carrouselmuseum.org. • COST: Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for children ages 2 to 16. Children younger than 2 are admitted free.