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Applegate Park's popular Kiddieland attraction a favorite target of vandals

Just as regular as clockwork, vandals leave their mark at Kiddieland in Applegate Park and caretakers of the amusement park have become weary of fixing the damage and cleaning up the mess.

Longtime Kiddieland volunteer and Greater Merced Kiwanis Club member John Sykes has an idea who the vandals are. He thinks they are probably 17 or 18 years old, some of them criminal street gang members, who are retaliating after they have been scolded earlier by amusement park workers.

"Who upset them this time? Some park volunteer made them angry. I'm not sure what the real answer is. It (vandalism) is a pretty regular event of late. It doesn't make sense," Sykes said.

He has been volunteering at the Kiddieland amusement park for 34 years. He recently finished making repairs on two of the five rockets that were damaged by vandals and also cleaned up after hooligans who splattered a dozen eggs all over the complex. He knows there were a dozen eggs because the egg carton was discarded nearby.

A large glass jar of ketchup left over from a nearby picnic also was smashed on the ground and red and green chili peppers were strewn about, Sykes said.

Susan Albertoni, a Merced attorney, has just finished a stint as the club vice president in charge of Kiddieland and is now the club's president-elect. She has just turned over the Kiddieland job to Mike Wegley, who is the deputy director of the city of Merced's public works program.

Albertoni called the recurring vandalism "so senseless" and said it appears video camera systems and other security features may be necessary for Kiddieland. During her watch as the Kiddieland director, additional security features were added.

Ongoing vandalism, equipment needs and the necessity of refurbishing the miniature train that winds its way along 1,830 feet of track are the reason the Kiwanians are planning a "Save the Train Barbecue" Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at Applegate Park. Tickets are $35 per person.

Wegley wonders why even keep Kiddieland going when vandals keep tearing it up.

"It's a shame a few bad apples spoil things for everybody. I'd like to see Kiddieland growing. Damage is in the thousands. It's an ongoing problem we need to address," Wegley said.

Albertoni said last year the club spent $30,000 to upgrade fencing around the amusement park. She thinks more frequent police presence would deter vandals.

Sykes said he will occasionally talk to gang members who walk by Kiddieland. He said he tells them they are only hurting youngsters and if they are mad at adults, they should take it out on them instead.

"Damage is well into the thousands. Thank goodness for donations; I don't know how we would survive without them. I hope new lighting and security will solve the problem," Sykes said.

Albertoni said the club has never had a fundraiser specifically for Kiddieland. The club needs to redo the railroad roadbed and fix some of the train mechanicals. Sykes said most of the train equipment is more than 50 years old, won't last forever and finding parts to repair it is becoming extremely difficult.

The club just received a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Merced County for operation and maintenance of the amusement park.

Alan Schoff joined the Kiwanis Club because of his interest in Kiddieland, which his 4-year-old enjoys. He said security obviously is an issue at the park.

Hal Hambley was the head of the club's Kiddieland efforts in 1986 and said they had no problems then. Sykes said it is difficult to make the place secure since it's surrounded by a public park.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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