Heritage Amusement Park is back! After missing a season, the venue that got its start as Magic Mountain, then morphed into Heritage Square Amusement Park, will reopen Memorial Day Weekend...after some people had written it off for good.
It's been a wild ride for the amusement park. Shortly after Disneyland made its debut in California in 1955, prominent Colorado investors, engineers and artists collaborated with Disney veterans and Hollywood art directors to develop Magic Mountain in the foothills of Golden. Attractions included the Magic Mountain Railroad, the Magic Mountain Playhouse, Eden Palais — a magnificent historic carousel that was one of the world’s largest — and a ski run packed with artificial snow, which turned out to be the most successful attraction when the park opened in 1957.
The fun didn't last long, though. The park closed in 1959, and the next year, Magic Mountain's investors sold off most of the rides to a Six Flags amusement park in Texas.
But in 1971, the park was revived, restyled as Heritage Square. An artisanal homage to Colorado gold-rush towns, it boasted a small village of quaint shops and artisans — a general store, a glass-blower, a metal master— as well as such modern pleasures as a beer garden and restaurant. The former playhouse, now reimagined as the Heritage Square Opera House, offered comedic melodramas performed by an Estes Park-based troupe; it grew into a popular dinner-theater experience, dubbed the Heritage Square Music Hall. New shops and attractions popped up one by one: a wedding chapel, a schoolhouse, an alpine slide.
In 1988, an amusement park featuring child-friendly rides was added. Three decades after Coloradans first attempted to bring Disney’s vision of a family-oriented theme park to the foothills, Heritage Square Amusement Park was a hit.
In the late ’90s, Alan Bader took the reins of the amusement park, and continued to make changes. After discovering a quirky piece of cinematic history for sale — a carnival ride that had been featured in the 1962 Pat Boone/Ann-Margret film State Fair — he purchased and refurbished it, piece by piece. “We have actually put more money into refurbishing the attraction than it cost to buy it,” Bader says. But it quickly found fans, with cinephiles lining up for the Tilt-A-Whirl so they could sit in the cup where Ann-Margret once rode.
But in 2011, Martin Marietta Materials acquired LaFarge North America, an outfit that owned a nearby gravel operation, as well as the property on which the amusement park stood. It offered to buy the venue, whose lease went to 2039, but Bader refused. Soon after, he encountered problems that discouraged attendance and affected the bottom line. The landlord removed the tall archway sign announcing Heritage’s entrance, making the park harder to find; Bader responded by erecting a banner. Then Marietta had the public restrooms destroyed.
Adding insult to injury, Marietta insisted that Bader change the name of the park, claiming that sole use of “Heritage Square” went with the LaFarge purchase (though that trademark actually expired in 2011). So Bader dropped "Square."
But Heritage Amusement Park kept going downhill. By 2015, nearly everyone was gone. In 2017, the park closed altogether, and many of its former attractions and buildings were sold, moved or demolished. On social media, commenters lamented the demise of Heritage Square.
Much of the park still stood, though, and Bader worked hard to get Heritage Amusement Park up and running again. It will celebrate its rebirth with a Memorial Weekend Summer Kickoff, May 26 through May 28. “We’re a great place for kids. We’re thrilled to kick off summer with this event celebrating our eighteenth year,“ says Bader. “The community loves this event, and we expect a strong turnout for Memorial Day weekend.”
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While some features such as the Alpine Slide are gone, there are plenty of rides ready to rock. Bader is especially pleased with the freshly refitted Space Shuttle and the new bumper boats on the little lake. The park's Garden Grill is back in business, with carnival treats for the kids and wine and beer for adults; families can also bring their own food.
A lot of money, time and effort have gone into restoring Heritage Amusement Park for the season, with Bader’s enthusiasm providing the charge. “There are a lot of parents around here...who have wonderful memories, he says. "Now they can bring their own kids here to make new ones.”
Heritage Amusement Park is located at 18310 West Colfax Avenue in Golden. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day. Admission ranges from $16 to $18 and includes twelve rides. Visit heritageamusementpark.com or call 303-PARTIES for more information.