Clementon Park & Splash World has abruptly closed its gates to the borough’s annual Fall Fest in October, prompting concerns that it’s the end of the ride for the a 112-year-old South Jersey amusement park.
Jamie Messenger, organizer of Fall Fest at Clementon Park, said she had spent months orchestrating the event — expected to draw thousands to the tiny Camden County borough — and was shocked to receive word just weeks before the planned date that the venue had closed early for the season, forcing her to cancel the one-day jamboree.
“Getting the community together like this, this was something I was really proud that I was able to do," said Messenger, who had organized the Clementon festivals in 2017 and 2018. "This was a real blow.”
Because of the short notice and the scope of the Fall Fest — featuring food vendors, entertainment stages, a car show, a chili contest, and a beer garden dependent on Clementon Park’s liquor license — Messenger said she couldn’t move the annual event, forcing her to call it off.
Messenger said her communication with the park dwindled in August, when a park spokesperson stopped returning her phone calls and emails. Then, last week, she said, she received a call from park personnel informing her that Premier Parks LLC, the Oklahoma-based corporation that owns Clementon Park, had closed the park’s gates and was attempting to sell the site.
Phone calls and an email to Clementon Park and Premier Parks, which acquired Clementon Park in 2011, were not returned Friday. Premier officials told KYW that the park is closed and that there is potential for a sale.
Messenger said she had to dip into personal funds to pay back the vendors. But, she said, it’s the future of Clementon Park that concerns her the most.
The festival cancellation occurred around the time that 6ABC reported that a Philadelphia family arrived at the water park with prepurchased tickets, only to find that the park was shuttered for the season.
As first reported by the South Jersey blog 42Freeway.com, the park’s Facebook page appears to have been deleted, its Twitter account is set to private, and its website is no longer selling 2020 season passes.
“There’s a lot of nasty talk going around about people being relieved Clementon Park is closing, but we’re a small town, and it hurts to see this happening,” Messenger said. “It doesn’t bring in a lot of money, but it’s the heart of the town, it’s what puts us on the map."
Founded in 1907, the Camden County park is one of 13 trolley parks — destinations created to encourage workers and their families to ride streetcars — still operating in the United States. Featuring thrill rides, family-friendly attractions, a 23,000-square-foot wave pool, drive-in movies, and more, the park has been a popular spot for school field trips and summertime fun in South Jersey.
“Even being a resident in Clementon,” Messenger said, "you hear the train whistle going off, and you know it’s summer.”