Iconic Des Moines carousel returns from pandemic shutdown

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Since 1998, the Heritage Carousel of Des Moines at Union Park has provided metro families with memories to last a lifetime.

“It is just so great to hear the music playing again and hear the people laughing and the children running to the carousel to get a ride,” said Jackie Cacciatore, executive director of the Heritage Carousel.

In 2020, the pandemic shut the book on the iconic ride. “It is a huge reason why we are out today. Being able to do everything all summer and we’ve got a whole summer worth of plans scheduled because last summer we were sheltered,” said Anthony Meyer.

The first ride of the season on May 29 of 2021 was emotional for organizers and patrons. “It was very joyous and the carousel was pretty full. Everyone was having such a great time and I don’t think I’ve ever heard people applaud after a ride. That was fantastic,” said Cacciatore.

A return to some normalcy at Union Park was memorable for 3-year-old Hayden Meyer, who rode the bunny. The Lawson family also took advantage. Wren Lawson was thrilled about the season opener and chose to ride the horse. Her mother, Emily Lawson, said, “Gosh, seeing their smiles, we’ve been waiting since it was closed last year. I’ve just been watching and hoping they’d be open this year.”

Rides cost just 50 cents for kids and a dollar for adults. “Our mission and goal is to keep the cost of a ride affordable and accessible to everyone,” Cacciatore said.

New in 2021 is the “Ride every animal passport” for $15. Cacciatore said, “With that passport you can ride each animal for free once, and you’ll get that stamped and a little prize when you complete it. You’ll enter a drawing for a contest at the end of the year.”

Like all things, time has taken a toll on the carousel. A Heritage Carousel capital campaign is attempting to raise $52,000 for improvements and remains thousands of dollars short of enhancing this Des Moines gem for another two decades. “You always hate to see when stuff like this closes down for reasons like funding, so it’s really good to see and hopefully we get donors to pull together,” Meyer said.

They are working to preserve the future of a ride that takes everyone back in time. “I always tell them that they should ride because it is a time machine and that they will feel at least ten years younger when they get off,” Cacciatore said.

Social distancing measures continue to be encouraged when waiting in line and getting on and off the carousel. Anyone not fully vaccinated is asked to wear a mask when riding the carousel. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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