Advance to Boardwalk

Appears in the June 2023 issue.

Surrounded by farm fields, Indiana Beach amusement park is a trip back in time

An aerial photo of Indiana Beach

The news in February 2020 didn’t exactly come as a shock. When California-based Apex Parks Group announced that it was permanently shutting down Indiana Beach—a 1926 resort and amusement park on the shore of manmade Lake Shafer in Monticello, Indiana, a little over two hours from Naperville—the firm became just the latest in a series of owners over the preceding dozen years that had given up on the idea of keeping this Hoosier institution afloat. (Before that, the 376-acre park had been run by several generations of the founding Spackman family since the 1930s.) But the same characteristics that make for a great thrill ride—swiftness and severity—made this particular announcement a little more jarring than the others, especially given the pointed language in the news release (“closing for good”) and the fact that several beloved rides already were headed for the auction block.

In addition to its rides, sandy beach, boardwalk games, elephant ears, and paddle-wheel steamer cruises have helped define summertime fun for generations of Midwesterners. But just as it looked like the end for this family destination, yet another lifeline emerged in the form of Gene Staples, a Chicago-area businessman who bought the 376-acre park before Apex filed for backruptcy in April 2020. Staples saw in Indiana Beach the same kind of simple seasonal pleasures that he recalled from a childhood spent at Kiddie Land in Melrose Park.

Kids on a swinging ride at Indiana Beach

While locals and longtime visitors were hopeful but skeptical (Staples wasn’t the first out-of-town savior to make grand promises about Indiana Beach, after all), the proof was soon there for all to see: new paint jobs, new lighting, new food and souvenir vendors, and new rides (a triple-loop coaster is set to join the lineup this summer). And while the first couple of seasons involved plenty of adjustment—especially coming out of the pandemic—the crowds have returned to the boardwalk in healthy numbers to enjoy live music, a corn dog, and a spin on favorites like the Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain or the Flying Bobs (actually, better hold off on that corn dog until after the Bobs).

A roller coaster at Indiana Beach

As Indiana Beach approaches its 100th anniversary, the park’s status as a reliable source of family-friendly fun and nostalgia—not to mention a more local and less corporate alternative to the big-name megaparks—once again seems secure. It’s a longstanding reputation that Tom Crisci, the vice president of marketing, communications, and social media, believes is rooted in the familiarity of Midwestern generational traditions.

“I cannot tell you how many families I’ve run into who say that either their grandparents or their parents brought them here when they were kids, and now they’re bringing their own kids or grandkids to keep the family tradition alive,” he says. And knowing that they’ll be able to continue to do so is welcome news, indeed.

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Photos: Crow Media @ Indiana Beach