PUTNEY -- Santa's Land is saved!
It's new owners, the Billewicz family, have been busy going over all the details and making sure everything's ready before the children's park was reopened earlier this month.
"They treat me really well here," said Santa.
On July 7, Santa's Land was reopened to the public for seven days a week until Labor Day. After that, the park will be open weekends until Christmas.
"One thing we have to respect is that we are not to change what has been tradition for the generations that have come before," said Lillian Billewicz. "We want to leave it nostalgic, yet restore some of the attractions that need attention."
Billewicz had been following the story of Santa's Land since December 2011, when the park was about to be closed forever. She went to the park in February 2012 to check it out.
It was zero degrees outside. In a buggy, she was driven around the 42-acre property in snow and sleet.
"I saw it while I was bumping around," she said. "I saw something -- the potential."
Billewicz told previous owners Tim and Lesley Wells that if they ever wanted to sell the park, they should contact her first. Billewicz was never notified.
In the fall of 2012, she saw Santa's Land was up for auction and it triggered a maternal instinct.
"I said, ‘No, no, no. That's not going to happen,'" Billewicz recalled.
The following two weeks, she and her two sons, Johnathan and Michael, began their attempts to save it from going to auction.
One of the major reasons for not wanting it to go to auction was that Santa's Land was included in a grandfather clause for zoning that it would lose if it went out to auction. The grandfather clause also stated that the park couldn't be closed for longer than a year.
Since it was closed in 2011, it had to be reopened in 2012 or the grandfather clause would be lost.
The doors were open but ownership was still up in the air. Volunteers met through Facebook on the "Save Our Santa's Land" page and the doors stayed open for a short time during 2012.
From January up until a few weeks ago, the Billewicz family has been in contract negotiations.
Since acquiring the park, friends and family have come up to the Putney property to assist with revitalizing some of the buildings and thoroughly cleaning the park.
There is now a clothing store for infants and toddlers with all new products, where the arcade used to be. Pathways in the park are now lined with huge candy canes.
The old black train has been scraped down and redone. The sleighs have been repainted.
New selections will be on the snack bar menu, which includes subs, kolbasi kabobs, chicken kabobs, shrimp kabobs, ice cream sundaes and banana splits.
And, 10 new fawns were born in the past two weeks, including with two sets of twins, in the deep park.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.