Rye Playland closed its 84th season Sunday, spinning, dipping and flipping patrons on thrill rides as questions continued to swirl about its future.
Visitors to the 280-acre park savored a final gasp of summertime enjoyment under cloudless blue skies, far removed from Westchester County's continuing efforts to staunch the facility's red ink.
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"It was the last day, and we wanted to make sure we got to ride all of the rides before it closed," said Scott Gaffner, 35, of Mamaroneck, who came with his daughter Diana, 5.
Gaffner, who comes about four or five times a year, praised the Westchester County-owned park, but added that it needs some capital improvements to compete in a crowded field.
"I think they need to reinvest in the park and update the rides -- and the park in general," he said before he and his daughter headed to the Himalaya ride. "The proximity is so attractive that if you modernize, you will keep people from going to Dorney Park or Sesame Place or Six Flags. If it's a little more updated, people would be less inclined to drive two hours."
Westchester County taxpayers will have to pay about $3 million to service the park's debt, according to county figures. The scale of the park's additional losses is a matter of political debate, with Democratic legislators proposing an independent audit.
In any case, County Executive Rob Astorino has vowed to revamp the park's business strategy, but he has yet to unveil a plan.
Bob Kaplan, 60, of Rye, said the county should turn the park into a year-round attraction akin to Baltimore's inner harbor, with restaurants and retail shops.
Still, he said, "There's a fine line between what's good for the residents of Rye and the county" and any plans should consider the residential area surrounding the park.
For park visitor Moneek Petion, 35, of Norwalk, Conn., more concerts and new rides would make the park more attractive.
Petion, who brought her two children, Jahneek, 11 and Jeallene, 9, said that as a youngster she used to come every Fourth of July.
"It gave me a chance to relive my younger days and have the kids start a tradition of their own," she said of her visit.
That sense of tradition, however, may come at a price.
Though Olivia Curry of Port Chester said her three young children enjoy Kiddyland, she added that the park seems little changed from her own childhood visits.
"Seventy-five percent of the park is exactly the same from when I was there when I was young," she said.
With Alyssa Sunkin