• Opened: 1925
• Key feature: Cannon Ball, antique out-and-back wooden roller coaster
• Oldest ride: 1916 carousel
• Price: Entrance is $5, ride tickets purchased individually for $1 or unlimited rides for $21
Through 85 summers, the shores of Lake Winnepesaukah in Rossville have been the site of first roller coaster rides, teen romances and generous consumption of buttery popcorn, hot dogs and cotton candy.
The park has changed a lot since the 1920s, according to its current operator, 78-year-old Adrienne Rhodes. But one thing has remained the same: The 10-acre, spring-fed lake through which the park's Boat Chute ride has sent sunburned patrons for more than five generations.
But this time of year, visitors might be surprised to see the big body of water more resembling a rocky mud puddle than the 10-to-12-foot-deep lake around which the 100-acre theme park is based.
The lake is drained every winter as park employees inspect rides and make repairs.
"We find lots of coins, lots of sunglasses, and these days, we find cell phones," said Rhodes, walking through the park last week as workers prepared feverishly for Lake Winnie's first day of operation April 8.
Draining the lake is part of the annual maintenance, she said. It's something most guests don't see or even think about.
"There are just two weeks of vacation at Christmas" for park workers, Rhodes said. "In many ways, there is more hard work, brainpower being used in the winter because you are making so many decisions."
Park workers are able to drain the lake, which is fed from an underground spring, by opening several metal gates and valves in a concrete dam. The lake then drains into Black Branch.
"It's amazing how quickly it fills back up," Rhodes said. "From when it's completely down, it fills up in two days."
And the park's trademark carp, which dine on guests' popcorn, return shortly after guests begin visiting again.
"The fish burrow up in the mud, and as soon as the popcorn starts popping, it's amazing how quickly the fish come out," Rhodes said.
Park preparations are part of Rhodes' blood at this point. Her grandfather, Carl Dixon, opened the park in 1925. She is the third generation in her family to run the park. Now, Rhodes, along with her daughters, Talley Green and Tennyson Dickinson, run the park. They get help from a fifth generation of grandchildren who assist during the busy season.
"It was a great place to grow up," said Talley Green, who handles marketing and communication for the park. "But it's really two different places. You come here when it's open and then when it's closed, it's so different."
Lake Winnepesaukah will begin its 86th season this spring. It opens for Saturdays and some Fridays through April and then begins a four- and five-day-a-week schedule through August.