For more than 130 years, Historic Arnolds Park has stood on the shore of West Lake Okoboji. In addition to a vintage amusement park and a public beach, Arnolds Park boasts a museum complex, an excursion boat and several entertainment and event venues, making it a popular summer destination for vacationers from across Iowa and beyond.
In addition to attracting the summer vacation crowd, Arnolds Park receives a tremendous amount of support from the local community at weekly events held year-round. The park welcomes nearly 300,000 guests per year.
The support of the local community was never more apparent than in the late 1990s, when the park was on the verge of being bought out and turned into private development land. The Okoboji community rallied to raise $7 million in six weeks so that the park could be purchased and preserved as a nonprofit organization.
“We’re really fortunate to have such a wonderful treasure that really supports a lot of tourism in our area,” said Jeff Vierkant, who has been the CEO of Arnolds Park since 2018. “That, coupled with the support from our local community, just makes Okoboji a special place.”
Renovating for a Nostalgic Experience
Since Historic Arnolds Park was transformed into a nonprofit organization, it has undergone several renovation projects to restore key components of the park to their former glory. Most recently, the third phase of a $20 million renovation was completed that rebuilt and restored the Majestic Pavilion and the Roof Garden, which host a variety of events each week throughout the year. Currently, the organization is in the process of renovating the park’s lakefront, which will feature a brand-new boardwalk connecting the lakeshore to a promenade that takes guests into downtown Arnolds Park.
As the park continues to undergo renovation and restoration projects, nostalgia is still probably the biggest attraction at the park, according to Vierkant.
“It takes you back to a little bit of a simpler time,” he said. “I would say the amusement park is what really kindles that nostalgia, but all of the properties contribute to that as well.”
Every year, many families make Okoboji and the Iowa Great Lakes region their annual summer vacation spot, and the park has been serving many families for multiple generations. This includes Vierkant and his family. He started working at Arnolds Park as a ride operator in the early 1990s while he was in college. In 2005 he moved back to the Okoboji area with his family and was able to pass those experiences on to his children as well.
Working With a Proactive Partner
Northwest Bank has been a community partner to Arnolds Park for many years. In addition to providing financing for renovation projects, as well as business banking and treasury services, Northwest Bank employees and leadership have supported Arnolds Park on a personal level through volunteer hours, contributions and sponsorships.
Former Northwest Bank President Neal Conover has served on the Arnolds Park Foundation board for many years and was heavily involved in the first “Save the Park” campaign. Joe Conover, the current Northwest Bank president, has also served on the board.
“We are very proud of the part we’ve played in helping Arnolds Park continue as an important historical landmark in the Okoboji area,” Joe Conover said.
The coronavirus crisis has put a strain on small businesses and nonprofit organizations all around the world. Brad Jungers, a commercial banker at Northwest Bank, was proactive about helping Arnolds Park receive funding via a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Vierkant said that Jungers reached out to them even before the final regulations for the program were released.
“He provided all of the information we would need for our application so that once they became available, we could submit it right away on the first day,” Vierkant said. “We got a very prompt approval and funding from the loan.”
Arnolds Park has been able to use the PPP funds to continue paying about 30 year-round staff as they ramp up to open the amusement park for the season in late May. Once the park is open, it will employ about 150 people.
With Northwest Bank as one of its partners, Historic Arnolds Park will continue entertaining multiple generations of families this year and beyond.
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