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    Posted July 28, 2014 by
    Wichita, Kansas
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Vintage theme parks

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    Land of No Joy


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Walking through the defunct Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita, Kansas, felt surreal to Connor Hays. The 25-year-old photographer and web designer visited the park in July and was taken aback by how vividly he could remember where all the rides were located. Now those rides were broken and overgrown with vegetation. Seeing Joyland again surfaced memories of him visiting the amusement park when he was a child. “It was like being back to being a kid. But at the same time most of the rides were dismantled or in complete disrepair,” he said. “The place had changed so much that it was almost a really eerie feeling.” He describes the experience as an odd mix of nostalgia and being creeped out. Joyland was a part of Hays life throughout much of his childhood. He visited the park during its heyday at least two to three times each summer when he was between the ages of five to 12. Going to the park with his parents always felt like a special occasion. “This kind of special feeling that is hard to recreate or describe once you have grown up,” he said.
    - Jareen, CNN iReport producer

    Joyland Amusement Park, located in Wichita, KS first opened in 1949. For decades it was a bustling attraction and one of the main draws for residents of Wichita, as it was the only amusement park in the state of Kansas.


    As I was growing up I went with my family to the park every summer, it was the go to destination. Birthday parties and events of all kinds were regularly held there and it was one of the iconic parts of my childhood in the 90's.


    Near the end of that decade though safety concerns grew, as the park wasn't being kept up in terms of safety. It was rumored, although it can't be confirmed, that there was at least one fatality as a result of the old wood rollercoaster that was the mainstay of the park. Along with that were other assorted injuries, mixed with economic decline within the city.


    In 2004 the park was shut down for good. By that time it had almost become a forgone conclusion given the safety concerns, numerous accidents, and lack of new rides and attractions. Since then, many efforts have been spearheaded to bring the park back to life. In 2006 a group of investors announced plans to bring the park back to life but quickly realized the project wasn't feasible and more recently a group of local residents created the Joyland Restoration Project, which never got any true support from the city. As the years have gone by though the decline of the park has become even more precipitous.


    Many photographers have chronicled its deterioration since 2004. The last photoset was taken a few years back when most of the rides were still intact and vandalism hadn't quite ruined most of what was left. Since then, most interest has died down and the park has continued to sit lifeless.


    Fueled by my childhood nostalgia and passion as a photographer, I decided to go take photos of the park earlier this month (July 2014). Instead of finding a broken down and deteriorated amusement park what I found was piles of wood, buildings covered in graffiti, and trees and flora sucking the park back into it's natural state. It seemed as if someone had decided to build an amusement park in the middle of a jungle. Many of the large rides still remain intact. The wood rollercoaster of death still stands with the walkway painted in bright pink and blue and the controls in a jumbled heap at the top. In places lay rides in large piles that had been dismantled years earlier, in other spots lay random tram carts and such odds and ends as vacuum cleaners and signs.


    The difference of just a couple years shows the power of nature. It also shows how rampant vandalism and graffiti can be in abandoned lots and buildings. The Joyland of my youth no longer existed. I could picture it in my mind perfectly. I knew exactly where each ride once stood, I could see the people and kids running around, waiting in large lines for the Whacky Shack, and coming out of the Log Jam soaked in water. For a minute I could fully live in that nostalgia. The slick slide was even standing strong enough that I took a ride down it to get a view of the park from above. I was quickly pushed back to reality though that Joyland would never be again, no matter the restoration or investment. It is a feeling you never get until you have experienced something in childhood and then grow up to see it disappear. For those in Wichita who are too young or too old, they don't understand, but for everyone who experienced it either as a child or as a parent, that feeling still exits.


    These photos are an attempt to show how nature, vandalism, economic decline and time take back even the most developed areas and how a once thriving amusement park that was the heart of city quickly became nothing.


    All photographs were shot on Portra 400 film and are unedited in attempt to capture the real feel of the park as it currently stands and the nostalgia that comes with it.

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