On any other year, visiting Valleyfair in the middle of August on a sunny, 78-degree day would smell like pronto pups, funnel cakes and mini doughnuts. It would be swarming with children hoping they’re finally tall enough to ride the Wild Thing and teenagers screaming atop the Power Tower before it drops. The maintenance teams would be working in the warehouse behind the white wooden coaster, sparks flying as they prepared props for ValleyScare.

But it’s 2020.

Instead of summer hits playing from loudspeakers and squeals from toddlers, the amusement park is quiet on Aug. 18. Birds chirp and the leaves rustle. If you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t know where you were.

“This is the quietest I’ve ever seen the park,” Valleyfair’s Communications Manager Kelsey Bailey said as she walked through the empty park.

Normally, Valleyfair employs around 1,500 seasonal associates and 400 international students. Many of the seasonal associates are high school and college students, Bailey said.

“It’s sad that those kids don’t get to come work here this summer,” Bailey said. But there is a plus side. Because Valleyfair is so reliant on its seasonal summer workers, it hasn’t been forced to furlough or lay off any of its 80 full-time staff members. Instead, both administration and the maintenance staff are working on odd jobs that they otherwise would have had to put on hold this year. And some of the park’s associates who are over the age of 18 were able to work for one of Valleyfair’s sister parks that is open. One team went to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, and another went to Cedar Point in Ohio.

Despite staff’s longing for all the chaos that comes with working at an amusement park, this summer has been a good way for the park to catch its breath, Bailey said. 

Near the park entrance, two maintenance staff wore masks and played 80s music as they stood atop ladders, fixing the wooden ceiling of the park’s carousel. It was a cosmetic chore, they said, mostly to keep the birds from flying up into the rafters.

“There’s always something to get done here,” Bailey said. 

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.


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