A well-known rite of summer for many Hoosiers turns 70 years old Wednesday. Now in its fourth generation of Koch family ownership, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari was originally established in Spencer County as Santa Claus Land, as founder Louis Koch’s way of saving children from the disappointment of not finding Santa Claus in the small town with the same name. It has grown to employ 2,000 seasonal and 100 full-time employees.
Director of Communications Paula Werne says the attraction still thrives because the Koch family and employees pay attention to things big parks don’t. "There’s things like being so clean that you’re just as clean a park at the end of the day as you are at the beginning of the day and is absolutely not easy to do," Werne said.
The park has steadily stepped up its focus on major thrill rides throughout the years, moves which Werne says have helped bring Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari to the "forefront of the industry." The most recent addition to its lineup is the $22 million Thunderbird, which opened last year and is considered the only "launched wing" roller coaster in the country.
About one million visitors come to the park every season, bringing a significant tourism impact to the area. Werne says people often say the park is located in the "middle of no where." She sees it differently. "If you draw some spokes (on a map) and put us at the hub, we are actually about three hours from Indianapolis, three hours from Nashville, Tennessee, three hours from Cincinnati and three hours from St. Louis, so sometimes we like to think of ourselves as being in the middle of everything." Werne says the economic impact for the "very Mayberry-esque" community can be felt in the form of jobs, hotel and campground nights and other visitor spending.
The park has been toasting this year’s milestone all season with the addition of a 70th Birthday Plaza, the return of a refurbished version of its original ride, the Freedom Train, and a Memories Mosaic feature with 7,000 images of fun at the park through the years gathered from crowd-sourcing.
Director of Communications Paula Werne says the attraction still thrives because the Koch family and employees pay attention to things big parks don’t.