Legacy of amusement park lives on at Lake Lansing Park South

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In 1970, 6-year-old Kirk Frayer, now an employee at Haslett True Value Hardware, moved to a house near Lake Lansing in Haslett. He would come to spend summer days at Lake Lansing Amusement Park, which once sat on the site of what is now Lake Lansing Park South.

“I was able to spend almost every day there from a woman who was watching me, and ride on the airplane thing, the Ferris wheel, all that,” Frayer said. “My grandma and grandpa used to go there when they were young, and yeah, that was a really nice place.”

According to Meridian Township historical records held at the Haslett Library, the park featured the Dodgem, a small wooden covered stage and seating area where bands would perform, a hand-crafted wooden carousel, and a wooden roller coaster that operated for 60 years.

Lifelong Haslett resident Lisa Harkness said she also remembers riding a tilt-a-whirl, cups, and a Ferris wheel at the park. Brent Miller, who grew up in East Lansing, described the park as having a “carnival”-like atmosphere.

According to the historical records, the park was originally a home for the Spiritualist church, which was transitioned into an amusement park between the 1910s and 1940s. Lake Lansing Park South manager Pat Witte called the park the equivalent of Cedar Point in its time; he said there was a train from Chicago directly to the Lake Lansing Amusement Park.

The amusement park even has a place in the history of the resistance to Prohibition.

“There was a speakeasy on Lake Lansing, where you had to take a boat out to a house on stilts, and that’s where Prohibition was being violated,” Witte said. “So, when you listen to the Discovery or History channel, and they say that Al Capone and his gang were away from Chicago, they were at an undisclosed location in Michigan, a lot of times it was out here.”

The beginning of the end for Lake Lansing Amusement Park came in 1971, when according to the Meridian Township historical records, the carousel was sold to Cedar Point and the roller coaster was shut down after it became unsafe. In 1974, Ingham County, which owned and still owns the park, shuttered the park after a series of fires ravaged the remainder of the park, according to the historical records.

“(Lake Lansing Amusement Park) was really popular when I was very young, and prior to that,” Harkness said. “It started to die down a bit later, I think mainly because the rides were getting old, and the park was losing money, they couldn’t keep up with the maintenance.”

Today, Lake Lansing Park South sits on the former site of that amusement park. The Dodgem does not survive, but its spiritual successor is a bandshell that hosts a summer concert series. The empty carousel building now serves as an administrative office.

The park’s main attraction is now a beach, which Witte said can draw as many as 2,000 visitors on a weekend during the park’s three months of operation. The park also features boat docks for both public use and for local sailing clubs.

Lake Lansing is the only recreational lake within a 45-mile radius, according to Lake Lansing Park South manager Pat Witte. Even without the amusement park, Lake Lansing Park South is still “kind of a destination”, according to Witte, who said the 30-acre park can have as many as visitors in its three months of operation.
“This is an opportunity for people to kind of get out of the house, and go lay on the beach, and actually, you know, go ahead and study for a test, or play together on a community playground, we supply Big Wheels for the kids, go and race around, every one of our shelters–this is where people have their family reunions, their open houses for graduations, things like that.”

 

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