We took a sneak peek at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Calico Mine Ride and Camp Snoop yesterday. What we found was a very good sign for things to come this summer.

Last year, instead of adding another mega-coaster, Knotts decided to pour money into their classic log ride, bringing it back up to its original glory and adding new effects, story and show. Additionally they built three family attractions where one low-capacity thrill ride once stood.  It was a bit of a gamble as they were breaking from their previous pattern and trying to court the entire family again.

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The gamble paid off and Knott’s saw a sizable attendance boost because of it. “It was pretty overwhelming,” explains the Park General Manager, Raffi Kaprelyan.  “in the sense that people appreciate us going after the heritage, and assuring that we are maintaining it. The other aspect is that there was a gap in the offerings to families.  Especially between the 9, 10, 11 year olds.  We had something for the very young and for the thrill seekers, but nothing for that group.”

Raffi continued, “The other thing, with the Boardwalk area, is that it used to be something that only the thrill seekers rode if they wanted to get wet (Perilous Plunge).  Now, we have three rides that everyone can ride and enjoy back there.  They can ride it together.”  It’s true too as the Boardwalk area is now bustling with kinetic energy and people running around, enjoying the rides. “It used to be a place where people just walked right by it.  Now people are there, sitting around, enjoying it.  When the lights come on at night, people just enjoy the place-making we did there.  There’s a great energy to it.”, boasts Kaprelyan.  He’s right too.  The once dead section of the park is now always filled with folks darting around, having a good time.

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Two new figures from Garner Holt Productions greeted guests as they took their places for the presentation.
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Jeff Gahagan, Lara Hanneman, and Jeff Shaddic listen as Eric Lynxwiler address the crowd.

 

CALICO MINE RIDE

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With the success of the Log Ride refurbishment and the Boardwalk under their belt, it was a no-brainer to continue forward.  Raffi first developed a “master plan” as he called it, when he was assigned to be the General Manager of the park.  But it wasn’t until they were well into the work on the Log Ride that he got the go ahead to renovate the Calico Mine Train too.

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“When we were working with Garner Holt Productions on the Log ride, ” says Director of Entertainment Tech & Production, Lara Hanneman, “we were also discussing the Mine Ride, and it was like, okay. . . this is another huge project but we need to do it.  We have the Mine Ride and it’s so dear to our hearts.  It was so important to us, yet we didn’t show that.”

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Lara also explained that while her team is truly one of the best teams in the business, there was no way they could do it without the help of Garner Holt Productions. The geniuses at Garner Holt did brilliant work when they developed new show scene ideas and then constructed them for the log ride.  GHP added a total of 58 animated figures to the Timber Mountain Log Ride, along with a brand new storyline, and new effects.  It was a logical next step to have them give the same treatment to the Mine Train.  For this redo they got far more ambitious.

This wasn’t the first time Garner Holt Productions was asked to work on this classic ride.  In the early 90’s they added 5 characters to the attraction.  For this refurbishment, GHP is planning on installing just over 120 figures into the Mine Ride for the redo, with most of them will being animated too.  “We’re excited to now be doing the animation for the entire attraction.” Founder, Garner Holt added, “It’s gonna be pretty cool!.”  He continued, “The important thing is that we wanted to maintain the continuity of the attraction.  Not just inside of it though, but to be harmonious with all of the characters in Calico and in the Log ride.  We wanted it all to look like it was part of the same town, part of the same family, the same community and town. Director of Creative Design for Garner Holt Productions, Bill Buttler also spoke regarding some of the figures. “Another thing that we will be adding to the attraction is wildlife.  We’ll have bats, some donkey’s, fish, and other things that will be swimming, crawling, and walking around.”

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Manager of Park Decor and Entertainment, Jeff Shaddic, spoke about the hard work that is going into  everything, even the props, for the new attraction.  “We are rebuilding everything,” said Shaddic. “All of the dynamite crates are all being completely rebuilt out of cedar, and they’re tongue-in-groove.  Just like they were opening day.  The actual sticks of dynamite are going to look real.  Not like the cartoony, Wille Coyote style look, but authentic.  It has to be educational as well as entertaining, just like Bud Hurlbut had it when it opened.

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One of our favorite parts of the Calico Mine Train is the “heaven room”.  Just after the long, almost uncomfortable lift hill deep inside the mountain (the steepest enclosed lift hill at the time it was built) riders reach a glorious tableau.  The train edges through a vast, ethereal room of stalactites and stalagmites.  Strange music, written especially for this attraction, was meant to evoke the sound of wind whipping though the labyrinthian caverns.  As the years rolled on, the trademark music for this room became more and more faint. Fortunately Knott’s saw fit to maintain and fully restore this element to the ride.  The music has been completely re-recorded and will mark the first time that riders will have a chance to hear the entire piece in ages as the source recording had become spotty in parts.

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The Heaven Room in its current state with work lights on. In blacklight, this will look stunning.

We were invited in to the Calico Mine Ride to take a walking tour inside the attraction.  Approaching the facade we see teams of workers coursing over nearly every inch of the ride.

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Walking up the innovative hidden queue, the first thing we see is that the waterfall areas, once in terrible disrepair, have been completely resealed and repainted!  It looks so new and beautiful!

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The path leading to the load platform has been refinished.
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The redone waterfall pool.

Getting to the load platform we were treated to an up close look at one of the fully refurbished trains and one of the carts.  simply stunning.

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The old control booth will now be a peek-in featuring a bit of the storyline.

The biggest treat was still in store for us as we made our way on foot into the first cave along the tracks.  Rounding the corner we were met by a technician.  “It should be ready in about 3 minutes.” What could it be? Let’s find out.

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The Boiling pot room/steam room.  We entered and saw a sample of the brilliant, new, colorful lighting design by Knott’s very own lighting designer, James Sidler.

But the real treat was steam.  Real steam has been added back to the room!  You might laugh at this, but this effect has been missing for the past 20 years.  We were there to see it for the first time since it had been removed two decades ago.

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Once the steam hit the lighting design, well, it was amazing.

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We only got a small glimpse of the Glory Hole scene.

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That is only a small preview of the beautiful work and detail going into this historic multi-story attraction.  We think it’s in very good hands and will certainly be a must-see attraction this summer for all ages!

CAMP SNOOPY

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When Camp Snoopy was constructed 30 years ago it marked a major turning point for the berry farm.  The different “lands” up to that point were all centered around California history.  Knott’s marketing team visited Charles Shultz to pitch the idea of a themed land with walk around characters based on the Peanuts characters.  While semi-interested in the idea, Schultz was a little distracted as he had to go watch his daughter rehearse for an upcoming ice-skating performance.  The Knott’s team let Schultz know that they regularly put ice shows on in their very own John Wayne Theatre.  Schultz perked up.  He was reported to have asked, “If I allow you to use the characters will you use my daughter in your ice shows?”  She became a crowd favorite performing as Snoopy on ice, and the deal for Camp Snoopy was set.

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The idea for Camp Snoopy was that of the HIgh Sierras, keeping in-line with Knott’s California history theme.  Taking over what used to be a tree-filled parking lot, the designers carefully layer out the new land with the mature, lush trees in mind so as to preserve them.  A new roller coaster, the Timberline Twister, the children’s ride, Huff and Puff, and the interactive Snoopy’s Clubhouse.  This was the first land in any theme park that was specifically designed and themed for kids, and it proved to be a major hit.

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Over the years, the area remained a children’s playground but much of the High Sierra theme was slowly lost.  “Initially we were just going to add three rides.” said Vice President of Maintenance and Operations, Jeff Gahagan.  He continued, “But that’s what we had been doing, what we had always done.  We looked at GR8SK8, which is a giant skateboard.  What is a giant skateboard doing in the High Sierras?  We went over to Lucy’s Tugboat.  Again, what is a Tugboat doing in the High Sierras?  It didn’t make sense.  So we thought, ‘okay, if we are going to put these three new rides in, we have to take the land back to what it was.’

The Knotts folks took a long hard look at the entire area. Gahagan continued, “You look at the Sierra Sidewinder.  The fence work for that looks like it could be in Ghost Town. We knew we had to redo that.  Everything had to have the HIgh Sierra look and feel.  Lara Hanneman, added “What’s important to me is details and color. We wanted to make it feel like you were in the Sierras but make it feel modern as well.  We looked at the color pallet and wanted to give the queues, the lines a very forested tone, to let the rides stand out more.”

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Here we see samples of the new landscaping taking shape in the planters.

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If they could only build a mountain for Sierra Sidewinder.

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They also turned their attention to the paving in Camp Snoopy.  It used to simply be painted concrete.  Over the years the paths had become bumpy, uneven, and just plain ugly.  Not anymore.  Knotts has gone through and resurface every square inch of walkway.  Instead of the green slurry treatment, we now have concrete that has been stained and treated to look like a dirt road, complete with pebbles embedded into the paths.  When crossing over a bridge, they have gone so far as to make the concrete looks like actual planks of wood.

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You can see the old pavement at the top and the new at the bottom. The last bit of surfacing work still needs to happen near the far end of Camp Snoopy. They hope to get to this when Spring Break is over.

As you can see here, the GR8SK8 attraction is no more.  It is gone.  They are now planning to give Snoopy and his friends a permanent home. Beagle Scout Headquarters will serve as a character meet and greet with park visitors. The headquarters will feel like a mountain lodge and filled with classic comic strip moments.

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The younger children will also have something to do in the Peanuts Play Lot.  Right next to the Timberline Twister will be a small area where the kids can play in a a safe zone.

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Lucy’s Tugboat is changing to Rapids River Run to match the theme of the land.

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They took the Timberline Twister and gave it a more Pinewood Derby feel.

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The classic Huff and Puff remains.

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Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies is a flat ride that bounces as it goes along.

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Tykes can climb aboard their very own all-terrain vehicle for an adventurous ride around the High Sierras. Six four-seater ATV’s will spin, bounce, and bump, while Pig Pen looks on from his center perch.

  • Speed: 6 rpm clockwise
  • Number of Cars: 6
  • Capacity of each Car: 4 per vehicle
  • Total Passengers: 24

 

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The Pig Pen’s Mudbuggies site right now.

 

Charlie Brown’s Kite Flyer

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“Fly a Kite” with Charlie Brown as Campers soar above the land’s winding paths and babbling streams – but watch out for the kite-eating tree! As the tree rises, good ol’ Charlie Brown is revealed upside down and all tied up in kite string!

  • Riders Obtain a Height of: 11 Feet
  • Speed: 9.5 rpm clockwise
  • Number of Swings: 16
  • Capacity: 2 seats per swing
  • Total Passengers: 32

 

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Linus Launcher is based on the idea that Snoopy has stolen Linus’ blanket and is flinging it around.

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Lay on Linus’ blanket and enter a classic Peanut’s moment as Snoopy grabs the blanket and launches guests up to 10 feet in the air. Enjoy a Woodstock’s-eye view of Huff ‘n Puff, The Grizzly Creek Lodge, and all of Camp Snoopy below!

  • Riders Obtain a Height of: 12 feet
  • Speed: 11 RPM clockwise
  • Number of Blankets: 8
  • Capacity: 2 per blanket
  • Total Passengers: 16

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The wonderful Grand Sierra Railway will see a wonderful new enhancement too.  Hanneman tapped Garner Holt Productions to infuse the attraction with more Peanuts charm.  Bill Butler explained, “This will be a sort of train ride to camp.  Along the way you will see vignettes and sight gags.”  “The narrator will be none other than Linus Van Pelt” Hanneman added.  We were then treated to an audio snippet from the upcoming makeover and shown two of the figures that would be featured along the way.

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So it seems that, after last years success with the Log RIde and Boardwalk family style attractions, Knott’s and Cedar Fair feel supremely confident in doubling down on the family strategy.    Noting that General Manager Raffi Kaprelyan said he had recently received the “okay” for his plans for the next three years, we prodded by asking, “So you got the ‘okay’ for, I don’t know, another dark ride?”  He smirked and answered, “Anything is possible.” “Ahh,” we asked, “so what’s NOT possible?  Another Coaster?”  “I will never say that.”, Kaprelyan said.

We think that after such firm success and strong attendance numbers, wonderful things are on the horizon for Knott’s.  If only we could get Raffi to talk!

All of these additions and renovations to Knott’s Berry Farm are planned to be open by the summer season.  While the Knott’s team is hoping for a mid-June time frame, they are making no promises just yet and nor should they.  We would much rather have it all done right, than done quick.  Will you make a point of visiting Knott’s this summer to see the wonderful refurbishments to classic attractions and lands?  Season Passes are still cheaper than a one-day one-park ticket at the Disneyland Resort, we think it’s money well spent.  See you on the Farm folks!