New owners give Santa’s Land a make-over

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(Host) Last year, the owner of Santa’s Land in Putney said he would close the landmark and reopen it as a Wild West theme park. But Christmas will come again to this famous Putney tourist attraction, when it opens next weekend under new ownership.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) The giant prancing reindeer on Route 5 has been waiting for a new coat of paint. You can almost hear him sigh as Leslie Wells pats his flank.

(Wells) “Ranger needs some face-lifting, yup. And this is Santa. He also needs a facelift.”

(Keese) Wells and her husband Tim Wells are the new owners of Santa’s land. The couple lives a few miles from the 70-acre park. They came to Santa’s Land as children, and brought their own kids later. They couldn’t stand the thought of a Wild West Theme Park here.

The Park had declined in recent years. It wasn’t that its last owner, John Fanelli, didn’t care.

(Fanelli) “I was in the amusement business and I thought I could handle it a lot easier. But it was just a little too much for me to handle. Plus I was alone.”

(Keese) The Wells are not alone. They both have big Vermont families, happy to help restore Santa’s Land to its former glory. There are in-laws painting and hammering, sisters raking the pigmy goat compound, and nieces trying out the funny mirrors.

The Wells are old friends of the Brewers, who owned the place for 32 years. The Brewers actually lived in the park and raised five kids here.

(Wells) “And you can see that they had a far-reaching vision for Santa’s Land.”

(Keese) The Wells hope to build on that. They’re bringing in a new train, and a new carrousel.

(Wells) “It’s wonderful – it’s hand painted, it’s quite beautiful.”

(Keese) Wells says Santa’s Land will remain rooted in the era of Eisenhower and Bambi – perhaps a more hopeful time. They plan to send out invitations to folks who’ve written about their disappointment over the park’s recent disrepair. They’re betting they’ll give Santa’s Land another chance.

(Wells) “Don’t you think it’s charming? I’m not sure what that charm is about. But people who come here sense it and I think come back for it.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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