Lock Haven panel discusses possibility of history-based theme park
LOCK HAVEN — Can Central Pennsylvania, with all of its history and scenic beauty, support a history-based theme park?
That was part of the impetus for a special forum and panel discussion in early December at Lock Haven University.
Among the special guests was a representative of Puy du Fou, a historical, medieval-theme park in Les Epesses in Western France that attracts more than 2 million visitors per year, making it the second most popular theme park in France after Disneyland Paris.
Guillaume Ingrand of Puy du Fou flew to Pennsylvania from France at LHU’s invite and participated in a panel discussion that also included Christopher Salerno from Kennywood Park outside Pittsburgh, Julia Chain from Preservation Pennsylvania and Dennis Greenaway, a local Medieval re-enactor.
Together and with a large, enthusiastic audience at LHU’s Durrwachter Alumni Conference Center, they discussed the feasibility of developing a theme park in Clinton County, based on Pennsylvania’s resources, history and industry.
The visit was inspired by Dr. Gerard Martorell, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and international business in LHU’s Stephen Poorman College of Business, Information Systems and Human Services.
A native of France, Martorell grew up near the park built in 1977 and said he has long enjoyed and admired the attraction.
“The park has a bird show with a Bald Eagles and more, a medieval town with shops, craftspeople and a Viking ship, hotels and a Roman camp that you can sleep in a tent if you wish. In 2018 there was a reenactment of a World War I battle to commemorate the 100 year anniversary,” Martorell said
And there is much more, for instance a coliseum, four-horse chariot races and gladiator battles.
Martorell was so stricken with the similarities between the French countryside where Puy du Fou is located and Clinton County that he personally wrote to Philippe de Villiers Jr., founder of Puy du Fou in France, to inquire about the possibility of representatives of the theme park visiting Lock Haven University to discuss this area as a possible site of a similar theme park.
He was pleasantly surprised to receive a positive answer.
Martorell is so passionate about the venture that he drove to New York City to pick up the Puy du Fou representatives at the airport and drive them to Lock Haven for the meetings and forum.
Salerno from Kennywood explained the importance of innovation and the connection to the community in the longevity of Kennywood Park, which has been in operation for more than 120 years, even during economic down times in Pittsburgh, including the Great Depression.
“Pittsburghers are traditionalists. Two things that have kept Kennywood in business are a connection to community and innovation. Keep the old rides, but keep on innovating,” Salerno said.
The recent additions of Thomas Town, based on Thomas the Train, and Steelers Country, based on the beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, has been instrumental in a resurgence of Kennywood’s popularity, drawing people from further away than ever, he said.