Magic Springs, Mid-America prepare for spaced summer crowds amid pandemic

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Two of the biggest family tourism draws in Arkansas are looking toward a summer where spacing will be necessary to stay in business and keep the coronavirus at bay.

Magic Springs Theme and Water Park will open after about a month’s delay Monday, June 1. Mid-America Science Museum has been open for two weeks after completely shutting down in March.

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“We live for opening the gates and having our friends, family and all of our guests come to the park,” said Michael Wampler, director of sales and marketing at Magic Springs.

Over on the other side of Hot Springs Mountain, employees at Mid-America have been scrubbing what they can and realizing not all surfaces are easy to keep sanitized.

“Cleaning constantly, and my hands are a little dry from all of that,” said Casey Wylie, the museum’s director of education. “One of the biggest challenges is making sure we can get a completely hands-on, touch-it museum.”

Wylie says a few exhibits have been removed because they just can’t really scrub them. The floor has spacing markers and masks are required indoors, including the new traveling exhibit “Bionic Me,” a timely exposition on technological ways we have augmented or assisted the human body.

At Magic Springs, similar spacing dots are on the ground at ticket windows and ride queues. After years of working to move amusement park riders more efficiently through lines, now they have to revert to showing more patience.

“They should expect longer than normal wait times simply because of the physical distancing presented by COVID-19,” said Wampler.

For hundreds of young people, a summer job at Magic Springs is or was a rite of passage. This year, the crop of workers has been training quickly on avoiding crowds and scrubbing rides, but just getting them on the payroll has been a challenge.

“We’ve tried to do a lot of the orientation through Zoom,” Wampler said of the online video meeting service. “They can get oriented and preliminary training. And they were doing smaller orientations and training sessions here at the park.”

Some of them spent Friday helping guests pick up season passes, using contact-less transactions and mobile phones. A new twist on time-honored traditions for some.

“I like it better,” said Raymond Whitehead of Amity, who led a two-car caravan of family members to get passes. He said he’s been getting an annual membership every year since the park first opened. “We’ll come every chance we get.”

Whitehead’s plans for going to the park reflect uncertainty for what crowds will be like. Wylie says the museum has been at about 25% capacity, though really good weather one weekend contributed to small crowds at the mostly indoor attraction. She calls the current number of visitors a draw for those comfortable with getting out and about.

“Right now, people who are more concerned are still staying away,” she said. “So you’ve got room and space and that can make this a good time to come visit.”

Wampler says the park isn’t in dire straights because of the delayed opening day. May’s schedule is typically limited. Even with skittish crowds and extra waits to ride, there are signs the park can recover with good weather and everyone following safe, social-distancing guidelines.

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“If they’re prepared and know what to expect from the information on our website, I think they’ll have a much more enjoyable experience,” he said.

“We’re going to weather this,” Wylie said. “We’ve gone through some weird, hard times in the past, but we’re still gonna be here through all this.”