Three days after a massive crowd uproar shook Lake Winnepesaukah, park officials met with Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers to discuss ways of preventing future occurrences at the 78-year-old amusement park.
About 500 to 700 youths, ages 10 to 16, caused a near-riot outside the park April 19 when park management decided to close 90 minutes early.
Lake Winnepesaukah publicist Talley Rhodes said Tuesday that prior to meeting with the sheriff, the park decided to immediately institute a new guest policy requiring visitors under age 21 to be accompanied by a parent or adult chaperone.
“Or they must be a member of a chaperoned group pre-registered with the park and sponsored by a church, school, camp, club or business,” Rhodes said.
Additionally, all visitors under age 21 will be required to purchase either a combination $3 gate admission and value strip of 14 ride tickets for $9.50, or a combination $3 gate admission and unlimited-ride armband for $18, Rhodes said.
The $3 gate admission by itself will be available only to those over age 21, such as adult chaperones and senior citizens, Rhodes said, adding children two and under will continue to be admitted free.
“Lake Winnie stands for family fun and has for 78 years,” she said. “This new policy will keep it that way.”
Sheriff Summers said the park disturbance was caused by parents leaving their children unattended with little money to participate in the park’s activities. Sporadic fighting throughout the amusement complex prompted the park’s decision to close early, he said.
“That’s what basically created the problem,” he said. “Once inside they weren’t riding any of the rides, so therefore they were just left inside the park to hang out with nothing to do. Of course, when you’ve got a large number of kids in that age group with nothing to do, there’s going to be incidents.”
Law enforcement from nine different Georgia and Tennessee agencies were dispatched to control the scene as the large crowd of unruly youths — many without transportation or money to obtain rides — began to obstruct traffic on Lakeview Drive.
Rhodes said the park is concerned about youths going unsupervised in this area.
“As both affected citizens and dedicated business owners, we will work with all people — parents, schools, business leaders and any others interested in our youngsters — to help resolve this question,” she said.
“We are not a teen park. We are not a theme park. We are not a rock-and-roll park,” Rhodes said. “We are a family amusement park, and everyone can look forward to that continuing in the outstanding fashion we have become known for.”
Summers said the park was very receptive to discussing ways to ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur again. The meeting provided a give-and-take outlet for police and park staff to share information about the disturbance and to talk prevention, the sheriff said.
“I was very pleased with Lake Winnepesaukah’s attitude about wanting to deal with this situation,” he said.
“By implementing the new policy of kids under the age of 21 having to have adult supervision and the fact that kids under 21 have to purchase a limited or unlimited ride package, I agree with them,” Summers said. “That was one of our suggestions and they felt the same. It was time to make an adjustment in their policies to try to eliminate those problem kids that wanted to come to the park and hang out.”
The park, despite hosting literally thousands of guests over the years, has only experienced minor problems in the past, Summers said.
“We’ve got to give credit to Lake Winnepesaukah,” he said. “They’re a family-owned and -operated business and this year, they will celebrate their 78th anniversary.
“When you figure into the equation that number of people, they have really done an outstanding job as far as their operation goes in providing a wholesome family environment,” he said. “These policy changes will make the park a safer, more family-oriented environment and we won’t have the large number of kids that were there just to hang out causing difficulties like what happened Saturday night. We’ve all learned from the experience.