Very amusing: Lake Winnepesaukah opens 98th season of outdoor family fun

Photography by Matt Hamilton / Lake Winnepesaukah owners Talley Green, left, and Tennyson Dickinson on a carousel at the amusement park.

Lake Winnepesaukah shuts down for six months each year, but the women who run the North Georgia amusement park barely slow down.

"We go from working seven days a week (in season) to working five days a week," says Tennyson Dickinson, who, with her sister, Talley Green, represents the fourth generation of family ownership at the 98-year-old attraction.

Lake Winnie opens on Thursday, May 4, with what Dickinson calls its "signature attractions" all spiffed up and ready to go.

"The Cannon Ball, opened in 1967, is a classic wooden, out-and-back roller coaster," she says. "We've given it some extra time and attention this (past) winter, and our carousel boasts 68 hand-carved, hand-painted horses. It was built in 1916 and came to our park from Atlanta in 1967."

Then there's the park's oldest original ride -- the boat chute, built by the sisters' great-grandfather, Carl Dixon, which opened in 1927. The sisters say Dixon bought the 78 acres on which the park stands -- and 186 more -- in 1924.

"He was an entrepreneur, always looking for the next challenge," Green says. "He and our great-grandmother, Minette, bought this property on a dusty dirt road, miles from Chattanooga and turned it into a recreational facility with swimming, boating and fishing.

"Neighborhood carpenters, no blueprints -- just the Dixon imagination," she adds.

Green says the park had just begun to evolve into an amusement park when Dixon died in 1933. She says Minette took charge and continued to develop the park until her death in 1958.

"It was something of a novelty for a woman to be in charge of a business at that time," Green says, "but she paved the way for subsequent generations of women to lead the park."

Minette's daughter, Evelyn Dixon White, took over and later brought her two daughters into the business.

"That's our mother, Adrienne White Rhodes, and our aunt, Tootsie White Harless," says Dickinson, adding that they operated Lake Winnie for some 60 years.

"They still have the park in their blood," says Dickinson, who adds that she and Green took over in 2020 -- the year the global pandemic stopped just about everything.

"Honestly, the pandemic had a greater effect on the park than World War II," Dickinson says. "There was little or no growth during the war years because the park was doing everything it could to support the war effort.

"It was a special time because, as Americans, we were so united in support of the Allies," she says. "We weren't divided."

But Dickinson says Lake Winnie's attendance hit at least a 50-year low in 2020 because of people's differing beliefs and government restrictions.

"Tennessee had one set of regulations, Georgia had another," she says. "It was a bit of a challenge to implement social distancing. We weren't able to open half the rides, if that many. We had to cut the season short."

"It was a very challenging time," she says, adding that 2021 was "better," although the park's group business still lagged. The next year, 2022 was "a good next step to normalcy."

"We hope 2023 will be that final step back," she says.

The sisters say that, per usual, a crew of about 25 spent the last six months getting the park winterized, while the front office staff tends to marketing, budgeting, menu planning and professional development.

"All that planning needs to be done prior to opening day," says Green, who adds that, in addition to the park's traditional rides and attractions, "we may have a little surprise for our guests a little later than opening day -- we'll keep people in suspense over that one."

But whether it's that surprise or old favorite rides made to look new again, Green says Lake Winnie's aim is to do for its guests this year what it did during World War II, when soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Oglethorpe came over for some rest and relaxation.

"We're all so caught up in the daily in-and-out of life," she says. "Really, still, our ultimate goal is for Lake Winnepesaukah to offer a short-term diversion from the stress of everyday life.

"We so often see parents and grandparents coming back with their kids and grandkids, maybe for the first time -- creating new memories together, coupling those with old memories. It's just a joyful, happy experience."

  photo  Contributed photography / Lake Winnepesaukah
  photo  Contributed photography / Lake Winnepesaukah
  photo  Contributed photography / Lake Winnepesaukah
  photo  Contributed photography / Lake Winnepesaukah
  photo  Contributed photography / Lake Winnepesaukah