CONNEAUT LAKE, Pa. -- The thrills could soon be over.
Conneaut Lake Park, which sits a few miles from Ohio's eastern border, is facing sheriff's sale as early as Friday, Oct. 3.
This comes after Crawford County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to turn the property over to auction since the park owes more than $900,000 in back taxes that have piled up throughout the last 17 years.
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A four-year plan was proposed by the board of trustees trying to save the park, but Commissioner Francis Weidersphan Jr. said the proposed time frame for paying the taxes was too long.
"Nobody wants to be the demise of Conneaut Lake Park, but we have to look at what our fiduciary responsibility is," Weidersphan said in a phone interview. "We have to do what's best for the entire county. The further you get from Conneaut Lake, the less support there is for it."
With the vote from the Crawford County commissioners, all four taxing bodies owed money by Conneaut Lake Park have pushed for a sheriff's sale. Those taxing bodies include Conneaut school district, Sadsbury Township, Summit Township and the county itself.
"It's our responsibility as county commissioners to collect those taxes," Weidersphan said. "This turned out to be the best option to pursue those taxes without an acceptable plan (from the park)."
Weidersphan says the back taxes continue growing through penalties and fines, which total an approximate $3,000 additional per month. Although some have requested freezing those penalties to make paying the taxes more reasonable, Weidersphan says county code prohibits that action.
Many park fans fear the historic space, which dates back to 1892, is nearing its final days. If the sale progresses, the park's future depends on who purchases it.
During a recent visit to the park, Conneaut Lake's ride manager, Leonard Adams, told WKYC there are multiple developers eyeing the property with thoughts of building condos because it's the last piece of publicly accessible land to the attached lake.
"What's going to happen is the same thing that happened at Geauga Lake, Chippewa, Euclid Beach, Idora," Adams said during that interview. "Once it's gone, it doesn't come back."
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There is still hope, however, for those trying to keep the park alive.
The sheriff's sale could be delayed a month if the proper paperwork isn't filed by next week, which would put the new date at Friday, Nov. 7. It's also possible the park's trustees could file for bankruptcy, which would put the sale on hold for several years. There's also the option of concocting a fresh plan to pay off the tax debt, which would need to be proposed before the auction date arrives.
Dennis Cascio, who heads the "Laughter & Legacies" Facebook page, set up an online petition to save the park. In a matter of weeks, the petition had more than 2,100 signatures. Cascio says he anticipates the park will file for bankruptcy because there are "scarcely limited options" at this point.
"Their backs are in the corner without any other choice now," Cascio said. "Everything else has been exhausted. ... It's a lose-lose situation and people are underestimating the loss of the park."
Park officials have not returned our request for comment.
Conneaut Lake Park is a destination that has attracted many from Northeast Ohio through the years. Smaller than most other parks, Conneaut Lake doesn't charge entry admission. Instead, it operates on a pay-per-attraction basis.
It's home to several fan-favorite historical rides, including the Blue Streak wooden roller coaster (76 years old), the Devil's Den dark ride and the Tumble Bug (one of only two in existence).
In July 2013, the Travel Channel arrived at the park to film a one-hour special dubbed "Mission Amusement" in which several industry experts came to revive its success. That special aired early last month, sparking a renewed interest from fans to save the park.
Despite its ups and downs, Conneaut Lake continues moving forward -- and plans to continue to do so. Thursday, the same day the commissioners voted for sheriff's sale, a Facebook post from Conneaut Lake's annual Halloween event -- Ghost Lake -- declared they would be open for the season. Here's the post:
For those of you concerned about the recent news regarding the Sheriff sale of Conneaut Lake Park:
We assure you that Ghost Lake WILL be operating this year, as well as many years to come. Please do not believe any rumors you hear regarding this matter. We are working very hard to ensure that 2014 is our best year ever! You will not be disappointed!
See you all starting September 19th.
If you want to sign the petition to save Conneaut Lake Park, click HERE: http://bit.ly/WFZmLc.