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Edaville on track for expansion

In Carver, Edaville’s plans have neighbors wary

Edaville Railroad’s Christmas Festival of Lights has been a draw for decades.

Globe File/ 2010

Edaville Railroad’s Christmas Festival of Lights has been a draw for decades.

Edaville Railroad, the railroad theme park founded 65 years ago on a cranberry farm in Carver, has big new plans to broaden its appeal as a nostalgic celebration of small town America while adding rides such as a roller coaster and a water ride.

But some of the park’s neighbors have raised concerns over how its expansion would affect traffic and drainage in their Pine Street and Cherry Hill Drive neighborhood.

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Neighbors collected 30 signatures on a petition asking the town to withhold all approvals until “such time as a traffic survey and a wetlands/drainage survey can be performed to guarantee that emergency vehicles will be able to get to our neighborhood without delay and no further

Cranberry bogs provide seasonal color at the Carver amusement park.

Cranberry bogs provide seasonal color at the Carver amusement park.

water damage will be done to surrounding areas.”

Town officials said that when Edaville USA sought a permit from the Planning Board recently to make improvements to its entranceway off Pine Street, neighbors got wind of the company’s master plan for a significant expansion. It’s the park’s future plans, not the cosmetic changes to the entranceway, that caused concern, town planner Jack Hunter said.

“We got a petition from residents concerned about drainage, noise, and traffic,” Hunter said. “They care about the future expansion of the park, with a roller coaster and a log flume.”

A public hearing on the changes to the entryway packed the room and led to talks that addressed most of neighbor’s concerns. “We started to get somewhere,” Hunter said.

He said many of the questions raised by the petitioners were addressed in talks with officials when the Planning Board reviewed and approved the changes Edaville requested to upgrade its entryway. But some of the neighborhood’s concerns about the impact of a significant expansion when Edaville opens its new rides and lengthens its season remain unresolved.

The Edaville train in snow during christmas lights festival.

The Edaville train in snow during christmas lights festival.

One point of disagreement — the neighbors’ and the town’s desire for a traffic study — appears certain to surface again. Hunter said it’s common practice for a new or expanding business to allay concerns of increased traffic by hiring a traffic engineer to study the potential impact.

But Edaville’s owner, Jon Delli Priscoli, who bought the park a decade ago, downplayed the concerns raised by the neighbors’ petition. In an interview, Delli Priscoli said Edaville’s responses to concerns over drainage, increased noise, and traffic satisfied all the petition signers except for “two houses.”

He questioned the need for a new traffic study, saying the park handled a much higher volume of visitors in its heyday in the ’70s. Edaville has never had an incident of traffic slowing an emergency vehicle responding to a call in the neighborhood or the park, Delli Priscoli said.

Reached by phone, the petition’s initiator, Jean Taylor of Pine Street, said she was unable to talk and needed to speak to other parties first. She did not return subsequent phone calls seeking comment. Calls to other petition signers were also not returned.

Hunter said Taylor has sought to “back off” from being the group’s spokeswoman and other petitioners appear to have been satisfied by discussions with town and park officials.

Delli Priscoli said that while the company has not released information officially about its expansion, concrete plans have been made and the excavation work has been largely completed to allow the park to grow its attraction menu and widen its appeal.

Edaville’s ambitious expansion plan comes three years after the park faced imminent closure when its contract management team gave up the job. Delli Priscoli put the park up for sale for $10 million and said then he would sell off equipment and attractions if a buyer didn’t come forward. But instead of selling Delli Priscoli decided to invest in a plan to renovate the park while keeping it as a family-friendly, old-fashioned amusement park.

“We have a wonderful master plan. We have been embarking on massive enhancements,” he said.

Changes so far include the improved entranceway, new parking areas, a rebuilt rail system with 2 miles of track, and a new balloon ride.

The park replaced its impervious, hard-surface parking lot with a surface that allows rain water to pass through to the ground, reducing the possibility of runoff from the park to the neighborhood.

The planned new rides and “vignette” attractions will create “a more or less realistically choreographed experience of a village,” Delli Priscoli said. These include a scale-model “Main Street USA” and a replica 1890s general store detailed exactly from a 19th-century store on display in California. The park will also have a “dark ride” that carries visitors by carriage into a house with a pirate theme.

Delli Priscoli described the new concept as “a whole retrospective rolling back the hands of time” before the age of electronic media and computers with the narrow-gauge railroad still at its core.

“It’s not even remotely like the old Edaville,” Delli Priscoli said. “It’s completely focused on young children, their parents and grandparents, and siblings. We’re not chasing teenagers.”

Modern technology will come into play behind the scenes when the park opens its animated half-mile dinosaur walk in the woods. “[The dinosaurs] will look real. The eyes will move,” he said. Plans call for the dinosaur walk to open for a test run this fall.

Holiday season attractions include a rebuilt “Polar Express” train ride on a separate track evoking images from the popular book, and the traditional “holiday lights” ride through a colorful landscape of Christmas lights and decorations.

As for the roller coaster, Delli Priscoli downplayed the amusement park image of screaming teenagers during death-defying descents.

“All the rides are family rides, meant for the parents to ride with the kids, or the kids to ride by themselves. The roller coaster is in that vein. Its top speed is 40 miles per hour,” he said.

“It’s completely retro, made of wood.”

Hunter said that following a recent site visit to the park, the town’s emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) said the entryway changes and new construction presented no problems.

“They don’t have any issues,” he said.

But the town still believes the park’s expansion merits a traffic survey. The issue may surface when Edaville applies for a building permit for a roller coaster, Hunter said, possibly later this year.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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