Waco Lions Park has brought smiles to multiple generations of children in its decades in operation.
Now, Lions Park and its Kiddieland children’s amusement park are in need of community support to restore the historical park to its glory days.
The vintage amusement park at 1715 N. 42nd St. will open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 for its second Christmas Extravaganza, a day of fun for the kids and a fundraiser for general maintenance and for repair to some of the park’s much-loved 1965-era rides during the winter offseason. The fundraiser, initially scheduled for the previous Saturday, was postponed because of rain.
The Christmas fundraiser will feature discounted rides, free holiday activities and hot chocolate, then from 6 to 9 p.m. after the rest of the park closes, special train rides and readings of “The Polar Express” every hour.
Lions Park operations manager Linda Sirkel said she hopes the community turns out for a day of holiday fun so the park can continue to provide for generations to come.
“The park is for the community,” Sirkel said. “It is a fun safe place for the whole family. I think it would be a shame to see it go away. It has been part of the community for so long.”
Sirkel took over management of the park after her husband, C.C., who managed the park for a decade, died in October 2017.
During C.C. Sirkel’s tenure, he installed the park’s first new ride in decades, the Monkey Mayhem, and took out a $70,000 bank loan to replace the park’s 50-year-old train.
Linda Sirkel wants to finish what her husband started but said she faces funding constraints and a mile-long park to-do list. The 54-hole Putt-Putt miniature golf course, the oldest Putt-Putt franchise in Texas, Sirkel said, needs a new paint job and some fresh carpet. Many of the vintage rides need new multi-colored canopies, new cars, technical repairs and a fresh coat of paint. One of her go-karts is out of commission with a cracked engine.
“It’s been suggested that we go up on the prices,” she said. “We could do that, but the purpose of the park is for every kid to be able to come. You raise the prices and some kids won’t be able to come anymore. For some kids this is the closest to Six Flags they’ll ever get.”
For many Waco residents the park has been a backdrop to beloved family memories.
“My kids grew up there,” Waco resident Mary Duty said. “Sunday evenings on the little train. The little rides from another century. So many beautiful memories.”
As operation manager, Sirkel also oversees the Lions Den clubhouse across the street from the park. Profits from Lions Den rentals go toward the amusement park and are its only regular revenue stream other than ticket sales, she said.
A month before the New Year, Sirkel said she has about half of the Den’s 2019 Saturdays rented out. But with a $40 million Extraco Event Center expansion on the horizon, Sirkel expects to see a decline in Lions Den rentals once the competitor’s facilities are updated.
In recent years, the park has benefited from waves of community support. In 2011, the Junior League of Waco donated a new $145,000 carousel. In 2010, the Waco Association of Realtors renovated the Putt-Putt golf course. But eight years later, the golf course is almost six years overdue for another coat of paint.
“In Texas, with all our heat, it’s supposed to last about three to five years, but that’s why it’s faded and torn,” Sirkel said about the course’s current state.
Sirkel has a lot on her shoulders, managing the park and den along with caring for various family members in ill health.
“I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire,” she said.
Still, Sirkel said she cannot imagine herself in any other job. She said she loves the park as much as her husband did.
“This is what I was meant to do,” she said.
When Sirkel and her husband brought their children to Kiddieland when they were young, she and C.C. would often note the park needed a teacup ride.
“That’s one of my goals. I hope that I can stay with the park long enough to make sure that they get a teacup ride,” she said. “I feel like it has to have a teacup ride.”
A teacup ride is one of the many upgrades Sirkel envisions for the park.
She hopes to partner with area businesses next year to sponsor repairs for various park rides. She said she would also like to work with the McLennan County Master Gardeners on ways to beautify the landscape and minimize the visual impact of the gray chain-link fencing that surrounds the park.
If enough funding comes along, she would like to get another Super Slide to replace the 10-lane slide that was removed in March, Sirkel said. She would also like to buy a concession stand trailer to put near the picnic tables to separate ticket and concession sales, which are now under one roof. And ultimately, Sirkel wants to remove the interior chain link fencing that separates the Putt-Putt courses, the amusement park and the go-kart track.
“That’s my ultimate goal is to have easy access to all of the park without ever having to leave,” she said.
But all of her hopes will be unrealized dreams without financial support from community members and businesses.
“I think that the support is there. It’s just finding sponsors or businesses that would be willing to partner with us,” she said. “With all of the upgrades and expansion at the fair complex it’s a shame that Kiddieland would be not the best it could be as a neighbor. I think it would really add to the whole area if it could be brought up to its full potential.”