I arrived at Sandy Lake Park in Carrollton, Tx on April 23, 2011 around lunch time fully expecting to complete a credit run and depart within 20 minutes. What I found was much more than just a simple credit run. I found a park full of history, lush landscapes, well-kept amusements, and a family atmosphere operated daily by the six park owners, family, and friends. Situated just off the George Bush Turnpike outside Dallas on Sandy Lake Road, this park is extremely easy to get to and will only cost you a $2 per person gate admission taken when you drive in. Today I will take you thru a brief history of the park as told to me by park manager David and his father, one of the six owners, Frank Rush III, mixed with information contained in a book on the history of the park provided and written by Mr. Rush.
While the park existed prior to its purchase by the Rush family, it wasn’t until they leased (and a few years later purchased) the land in 1971, that the park begin to take its shape to become what it is today. The park came with the pool, which has since been modified to a shallower depth, the mini golf course, a few picnic tables and over 100 acres. Upon my arrival I headed to the ticket booth and had a nice conversation with the lady selling tickets that noticed my TPR shirt and directed me to David. I honestly had no intention of talking with any of the park owners, but I am extremely thankful I had the opportunity to do so.
David takes care of the amusements and park operations. He expressed to me that they had found their niche and are quite happy with it. Over the years they have rotated a few rides out and in, and, replaced a few. The park used to own a Trabant, but later sent it packing. They said they have found over the years that rides that involve user interaction tend to have more maintenance issues so they have elected to stay away from those. David also expressed that he was considering adding a few new attractions and was hopeful of the possibility of installed a spinning mouse one day. The park, he said, is very profitable and they host large corporate picnics throughout the year. After a nice conversation he had told me that he had visited TPR a time or two but doesn’t really have time to travel to other parks as during the operating season he’s dedication is to the daily operation of the park. I told him the site itself was owned by Robb and that many of us travel around and write stories (trip reports) of our experiences. He then asked if I’d be interested in a book that his father wrote, more for family history, but it details the history of the park. Without hesitation I accepted. He phoned his father and told me enjoy the park and that they would find me later on.
I was able to ride my first powered coaster, the Dragon Wagon. The Dragon Wagon has a history of itself according to the book. Frank’s father was voted down on the purchase of the ride, which he bought anyway. Placement was an issue, but in the end it was placed in the parking lot where it remains. It was cramped, but I was a trooper, crossed my legs, and enjoyed my first powered coaster.
Next up was the little dipper, a classic as well. Don’t let the size of this ride fool you, it packs a punch over the camel humps. The train was also nice and roomy compared to the dragon wagon.
The park has all of the classics, a newer paratrooper, tilt-a-whirl, spider, rock-o-planes, and pony rides for the kids. What amusement park can you think of that offers pony rides? I can’t think of any that still do that.
The lady at the ticket booth recommended I try out the Pretzel. This is where I met Jeff, who has operated the ride for over 15 years. The Pretzel is a dark ride that came from, guess where, Bell’s Amusement Park. The park purchased the ride about 1983. Frank tells me the ride was on trailers and took him a year to refurbish and repair as it was in bad shape. For all you dark ride enthusiasts this is a must, and Jeff will entertain you with his stories, but watch out, he has a collection of scary masks that we will use on you when exiting the ride. That just adds to the fun.
Frank tells me they do all of their own catering and touts their picnics and catering as using a higher standard than the chains. They recently closed the park to the public for Southwest Airlines where they held their annual company picnic for 5200 people. Yes, 5200 people. I’m told they are one of their top customers and they do whatever it takes to keep them happy. You can rent out their picnic pavilions for private parties, smaller parties can bring their own food or cook out on property, and they will even rent you a grill displayed at the front gate. Once you rent the pavilion, it’s yours the entire day, not for the duration of the lunch. A master BBQ chef prepares their meats which I am told are some of the best in Texas.
Of other note, Funfest, which started over 25 years ago, is starting this week over a 45 day period. Frank said this year they expect over 1400 school bands from across the region competing and judged by industry professionals. These bands will not only receive trophies in their respective categories, but will also receive a written critique from the judges.
Frank autographed his book and asked that I pass it around to those in the TPR family who wish to read it. I will have it on the NE trip, however, it’s already been reserved for at least a portion of the trip. Anyone else who wants to see it can do so as well. Just check page 1 of this thread for a listing of the parks I will be at next.
So to conclude, and before the few pictures I took of this wonderful family park, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The staff and owners make you feel like family. Jeff tells me one family drives from Arkansas each year just to visit the park and this year they had a new addition to their family as he pointed to them walking around. This is a park that you can come, relax, play, not feel pressured, and enjoy an afternoon. But don’t expect to come to the park in the evening, it won’t be open. They elected many years ago not to stay open in the evening as they felt it would attract the riffraff, and so far, so good. Next time you are in town, perhaps to ride the Texas Giant, don’t forget about Sandy Lake, take advantage of the mini golf, and perhaps the pool in season, and enjoy a stress free, nickel and dime free day.
EDIT: A link to the book can be found here