Indoor winter carnival staged at fairgrounds

FLATHEAD FUN

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Laurie Mason’s childhood was a picnic — quite literally.

Her summers were spent playing and working at her parents’ expansive Soledad Sands Park in Acton, California. The amusement park was 48 acres of desert turned into an oasis with a swimming pool that sprawled over an entire acre, a train around the perimeter, music by legends such as Herb Alpert and picnic grounds that could accommodate huge crowds.

“We’d have thousands of people and we’d cater to them,” Mason recalled. “We grew up doing this as a family. The park was a magical place.”

It’s no surprise that Mason has followed in her family’s footsteps by creating her own indoor amusement park that launched last week at the Flathead County Fairgrounds Expo Building.

Called Home for the Holidays, the indoor winter carnival will run through the holiday season, offering families bounce houses, inflatable obstacle courses, miniature golf and games.

Ashley Melnick was one of the first mothers to bring her toddler to the carnival. She was pleased how her 1-year-old, Levi, had plenty of room to roam around in the toddler section.

“It’s a nice outlet to expend his energy,” Melnick said. “In winter it’s hard to find activities that don’t cost an arm and a leg. This is a nice option for he and I to interact together.”

An entrepreneur at heart, Mason started Giddy Up Golf, a mobile mini-golf course, three years ago and immediately found a niche by setting up the course at various indoor and outdoor events and parties.

“After I had Giddy Up Golf for a little over a year, Jumping Jacks Inflatable Funhouse came up for sale, so I bought it,” she said.

She merged the two businesses under the parent corporation name Flathead Fun. Now her business includes a veritable mobile carnival. Mason is very busy during the summer season and wanted to find a way to fill the winter months, so she approached Fairgrounds Manager Mark Campbell about renting the Expo Building.

“It’s been my dream to do a Christmas village my whole life,” she said, recalling how her family decorated to the max for the holidays. “I grew up with parents who would make the house look like it exploded Christmas.”

Mason never strayed far from the entertainment business. After college she traveled and worked on cruise ships, then became an international event coordinator.

When she became a mother in her 30s, she searched for a way to “revamp” her career, and settled on the mobile amusement park.

“My dream is to rebuild [Soledad Sands Park], on 10 acres or less,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to create a North Pole, with mini golf in the summer.”

Mason has a Facebook page dedicated to remembering Soledad Sands and her late father, Buck Ware.

Mason’s mother, Barbara Helgeland, and her stepfather, Lee, have helped her get the Expo Building decorated as a holiday village surrounding the games and activities.

Her indoor carnival at the fairgrounds is designed for interaction between children and their parents, with plenty of options for old-fashioned fun. There are no video or arcade games.

Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Two food vendors, Phlathead Phillies and Glacier Gourmet, offer snacks and kid-friendly meals at the indoor carnival.

Visits with Santa Claus are planned from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20.

Entrance fee is $8 per person, but Mason has built in plenty of deals in her pricing. There’s a Toddler Tuesday during which children 5 and under get in for $5. A Food Bank Friday offers a discount if carnival-goers bring a can of food. Passes and punch cards are available.

The carnival is available for private parties, too.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For further information call Mason at 270-1258.

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