By Ashley M. Casey
Fulton’s “biggest small amusement park” is celebrating its 35th anniversary.
Thunder Island, located in Granby, opens for the season June 27.
Thunder Island began in 1979 with just a go-kart track.
Now, the park features numerous water slides and pools, three styles of go-kart, the Soaring Eagle Zip Line, the Jungle Mini Golf course and more fun for visitors of all ages.
The Oasis event facility can accommodate both indoor and outdoor parties as well.
Harry Perau is the owner and attractions designer of Thunder Island. He said he opened Thunder Island out of boredom.
“There didn’t seem to be a lot of things to do in this area,” Perau recalled. “A go-kart track seemed to be a good idea.”
He said “funding was difficult” and after a series of rejections, he secured a loan from the former Marine Midland Bank.
Perau’s father lent him a few acres of land for the go-kart track.
“If it was successful, I was to pay him for the property; if it was unsuccessful, I was to put it back the way it was,” Perau said.
The go-kart track quickly grew in popularity, and Perau added on the the park. In the late 1990s, he decided to branch out into the water slide trend.
“We had several hot summers in a row,” Perau remembered. “I had tried to put in a water slide or two several years before, but they were very expensive. … We couldn’t make a project come together.”
Enter ProSlide Technology, an industry leader in water rides.
As water slide technology became safer and more readily available, Perau discussed bringing water slides to Thunder Island with a ProSlide salesman.
“He told me I couldn’t start with just one or two slides — I had to have a whole park,” Perau said.
ProSlide told Perau about a set of water slides in a county-owned park in Pennsylvania. The park wasn’t being used, so Perau and ProSlide made a deal to dismantle the slides and bring them to Fulton.
“I built a hill and we reassembled the park on the hill,” Perau said.
Today, there are eight water slides and five pools, which require 15,000 gallons of water to be pumped through the system every minute the water park is in operation.
All of that water runs through nearly 3 miles of underground pipe.
Thunder Island has seen many renovations in its three-and-a-half decades. In 2012, Perau opted not to rebuild the “Big Eli” Ferris wheel and replaced it with the Soaring Eagle Zip Line, an expanded picnic area and a shade tent for Sliders Café.
The Oasis event hall received a makeover too, inside and out.
The Oasis now boasts 8,000 square feet of indoor entertaining space, featuring an antique Brunswick bar and hardwood floors which were removed and refinished from the old armory in downtown Syracuse where the Syracuse Nationals basketball team played.
The outdoor pavilion is available for events as well.
The wear and tear from Fulton’s harsh winters has Thunder Island employees spending the off-season cleaning, repairing and painting the park’s attractions, especially the water park’s fiberglass slides, towers, pools and pumps. They are also installing new signage with bright colors.
Their hard work has paid off — Perau said Thunder Island sold out of season passes in 2012 and 2013.
Perau said he has enjoyed watching his park-goers and employees grow up and come full-circle at Thunder Island.
“Employees that were here 25 or 30 years ago — now their kids are working here. These 7- or 8- or 9-year-olds that were the rising stars (on the BMX track) grew up to be the professional riders you see in the X-Games and the Olympics,” he said. “The memories that are being made today are an extension of the memories of 25 years ago, which makes it fun.”
Thunder Island opens for the season June 27. It is located at 21 Wilcox Road in Fulton. Call 598-8016 or visit thunder-island.com for more information.