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At Playland, the rides are back, smoking and trans-fats are not

The Journal News /

Original Article »

May 14, 2007

As if Playland Amusement Park isn't wrestling enough demons already - including decades of deficits, attendance that is only inching up, concerns about ride safety following two fatalities in recent summers and county legislators who would turn the whole thing over to private managers - Playland took on two more demons when it opened its gates for the season yesterday.

Smoking and food with trans-fat oils are now banned from the park.

The bans, even if limited to Playland, put Westchester on a growing list of governments to order trans-fats off the menu, including New York City, and to outlaw smoking in public places, including France and England.

On the lines to the fast food counters and in the four clusters of designated smoking areas outside the park's gates yesterday, several visitors said they supported the bans or were indifferent to them.

"I don't smoke in my house. I don't smoke in my car when my kids are in the car," said Peekskill resident Lisa Iodice, 42 years old and a smoker since she was 18, as she fired up a Marlboro Light in a parking lot outside a gate. "I think it's a very good idea. I don't mind coming out of the park."

Coddling his 8-week-old son to his chest while another 5-year-old son waited to board a ride, Jason Whitehead said the ban on trans-fats didn't go far enough.

"Most of the food here seems to be sugar and fat," said Whitehead, a prosecutor in the Bronx district attorney's office. "I can't see anyplace where I can get a salad."

Opening Day 2007 wasn't all about weighty health issues and complicated public policy debates. For Whitehead's 5-year-old, who seemed oblivious to the changes, the major issue was the long wait at some of the rides.

"I'm going on the car one," he said, inching forward on the line to Demolition Derby. Asked why he chose the ride, Jason paused, pulled on his yellow "Mighty Tots Basketball Clinic" T-shirt and then responded, thoughtfully, "Because it's bumpy."

A few hours after the park opened at noon, park director Dan McBride said patrons were cooperating with the smoking ban. Announcements over the public address system and signs around the park provided reminders.

"It'll take some time," he said. "It'll be healthier for everybody."

Attendance figures were not immediately available, mostly because attendance is calculated by counting receipts at the parking lot, where parking was free yesterday. Park spokesman Peter Tartaglia estimated up to 12,000 people would pass through Playland's gates before they were closed at 8 p.m. For the season, attendance is expected to reach 1 million, up from 950,000 last year.

Back at the food court, five Port Chester High School students unpacked bags of French fries, cheeseburgers and Cokes and said they weren't aware that the food was healthier than it might have been last season, even if it wasn't exactly health food.

"I guess it matters for some people because they care about their diet," said Greg Maggi. He said he was improving his own diet, but suggested that his extracurricular activities give him a pass on that issue.

"I'm in the marching band," he said. "I get a lot of exercise."

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