DURHAM — A popular water park that has brought summer fun to the community and employed local youth for generations will not open this summer due to the coronavirus.
Zoom Flume announced its decision Monday.
In weeks prior, advertisements from the business seeking summer employees were posted online.
“Over the past few weeks, Zoom Flume management has heard from a significant number of guests expressing their ongoing fear of exposure this summer to the COVID-19 virus,” according to the announcement. “Many have said they do not feel comfortable visiting Zoom Flume, or any public park. In addition, state health authorities have recently issued directives making it very difficult for our guests to have a positive experience this summer.”
Restrictions include wearing face masks, social distancing, reduced seating and limitations to admitting guests, according to the announcement.
“With this information and guidance in hand, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel our 2020 operating season,” according to the announcement. “We are deeply disappointed and this is not a decision that comes lightly. Ultimately, though, we care about our community, and we’ll do our part to get our great state of New York back on its feet. We realize this decision may be disappointing to many guests, but we have made this decision out of an abundance of caution and for the safety, comfort and well-being of our guests and staff members.”
Zoom Flume has been in business for about 40 years, General Manager Ed Kerrigan said.
“It was a terrible decision to have to make,” Kerrigan said. “We were put into this situation way beyond our control.”
Restrictions such as limiting the number of guests per day would have hindered the business, Kerrigan said.
“I can’t imagine guests having a good experience having to wear face masks all day in the heat,” he said.
Many guests said they would wait until 2021 to visit the park, Kerrigan said.
“There is still the fear of COVID out there,” he said. “We made the decision in the best interest of the health, safety and comfort of our guests and staff.”
Many patrons support Zoom Flume’s decision.
“The vast majority of emails and Facebook messages are understanding and supportive of it,” he said. “They look forward to coming back in 2021.”
Zoom Flume is a family-run business.
“This is the only thing we do,” Kerrigan said. “This is a very big loss.”
While the park is closed for the summer, the Zoom Flume family will continue to work on its multi-million-dollar expansion project that was delayed by the pandemic, Kerrigan said.
“We worked on it all winter long until the state shutdown, which hurt us, too, by the way,” he said. “We had to stop working for two and a half months.”
The park’s entrance is being revamped with a new gift shop and ticket office area.
“There are new attractions coming along,” he added. “I can’t say what they are yet.”
Season passes purchased for the 2020 season will be extended to 2021. All single-day tickets purchased with 2020 expiration dates will be extended to 2021. Season pass holders will receive up to $30 in discounts to spend.
Zoom Flume typically employs about 150 people, Kerrigan said.
“They pretty much all are local, from Greene County, Schoharie, maybe Albany,” he said.
Greene County’s unemployment pre-COVID was at 5% and in April unemployment surged to 14.8%, according to the state Department of Labor. For the week ending May 30, unemployment claims in the county were up 480% compared to the same week in 2019.
April is a transitional time of year for unemployment in Greene County, Greene County Economic Development and Planning Director Karl Heck said, with ski slopes closing and summer resorts not open.
“We see some of [the unemployment] every year anyway,” he said. “In May, you won’t have that. Hopefully in May we will be at the bottom of this as we begin to reopen.”
Summer employment traditionally available at Zoom Flume will not be available this summer.
Zoom Flume is also a tourist attraction, in a county largely dependent on tourism.
Most big summer events have been canceled, including the Greene County Youth Fair, East Durham Irish Festival, TrailBlazer Music Festival, Grey Fox Bluegrass Music Festival, Athens Street Festival, the summer concert series at Athens Riverfront Park and Coxsackie Riverside Festival.
“Not having some of those events is going to hurt,” Heck said. “As things begin to reopen, we definitely think people, particularly downstate, their first trip is going to be a relatively short road trip type of thing and they may be more inclined to come here.”
Heck said he believes air travel will take longer to recover.
A report released by the state Association of Counties in April looked at two different scenarios and makes projections for each. In the mild scenario, Greene County is estimated to lose $35.5 million in taxable sales and $1.4 million in sales tax, which is 4.3%. The severe scenario estimates Greene County will lose $4.4 million, or 13.4% of its potential sales tax.
The county launched a new campaign called Little Things Magnified.
“[We created it] as an attraction to visitors and are reminding them that during this time it was the little things we all missed,” Greene County Department of Tourism Director Heather Bagshaw said. “Like taking a walk with friends, dining out with friends, taking small vacations with friends. We can slowly come back to those little things and Greene County is a place to come to for those little things that we make greater.”
The county will deploy the Little Things Magnified marketing campaign to regions that have opened, Bagshaw said.
The tourism department emailed a survey in May to more than 25,000 Greene County travelers to see how the industry will bounce back.
“Sixty-five percent of the audience said they would travel within the first month of reopening,” Bagshaw said. “Ninety-two percent will take road trips first.”
Dining out and outdoor recreation were among the top activities that travelers are looking forward to, Bagshaw said.
Kerrigan said the county’s economic development and tourism offices, as well as Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, have been helping local businesses to get back on their feet.