INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT MOTT OF PULLEN PARK
Scott Mott is the Director of the amusements area at Pullen Park and also the John Chavis Memorial Park Carousel in the City of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. He has been with the City of Raleigh for 4 years, and previously filled the roles of Operations Manager and Program Manager before stepping into his current position at Pullen Park. In addition to his time working with the City of Raleigh, Mr. Mott also has had previous extensive experience in the amusement industry.
Interviewing Scott today is Joseph Ragone, an administrative volunteer with the Regency Park Partnership, and a long-time resident of Moore and Wake Counties. Joe was first introduced to Pullen Park many years ago when he was a guest at a wedding held on its grounds. Since then, he and his children, and his grandchildren are “regulars” there, and especially enjoy the Christmas season at Pullen.
Scott, we are so thrilled to have you with us today. Many of us who live in this part of the Triangle may never even realize that there is an historic amusement park just a short ride away. And while Pullen Park may not be amongst the larger amusement parks in North Carolina, it has a rich history that other parks cannot compare to. What can you tell us about its beginnings?
Joe, thank you for this opportunity to share Pullen Park and its history with your readers. For starters, you might be surprised to know that Pullen Park was actually the first public park in North Carolina, and today is the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the U.S. I have heard that it is among the 20th oldest operating amusement parks in the world.
A gentleman named Richard Stanhope Pullen founded Pullen in 1887. This was his farmland before he donated it to Raleigh to be used as parkland. Through his vision, Pullen Park became the first public park in North Carolina. The park sits on about 66 acres, just west of downtown and it is quite easy to get to. It is only a few minutes off the Raleigh beltline and can be accessed from either Western Blvd or Hillsborough Street.
You said the park is about 66 acres. Is that very big, what can we compare it to?
Well, as amusement parks go it is not probably that all that large. But keep in mind that this is a prime location adjacent to NC State University. The NC Museum of Art on Blue Ridge Road with its 2 large galleries, its amphitheater, parking lots, its extensive greenway system, outdoor exhibits and even a pond is a grand total of about 164 acres. So, based on this, we can say Pullen is easily more than a third the size of the spacious museum lands.
Scott, when you put it this way, it is a pretty large park considering where it sits. Now, at a very high-level and before we get into specifics, can you give us some idea of what one might be able to see and do at Pullen?
There is certainly lots to see and do. We have a lake for pedal boats, a train that you can actually take a ride in, and a very old carousel or merry-go-round. There are also kiddie boats and a café for food and beverages during your visit. Groups that visit often rent picnic shelters and we have places for special events that take place throughout the entire year.
Our kiddie boats are a favorite of younger visitors and are a more traditional carnival style ride, themed in a patriotic red, white, and blue. These move in a circle in a water filled basin, while the little sailors can wave to their families around the outside. You do need to be between 30" and 54" to ride
I also mentioned special events. A good example would be our event lawn used for a portion of the annual summer concert series held at a variety of Raleigh Parks over the years. Performers for this series generously donate their talents and time for the benefit of the park patrons. We have also held events such as a Valentine’s Day gathering, and St. Patrick’s festivities for the kids.
Scott, that is a lot to do at Pullen. But we know that Pullen Park is much more than a place for amusements and event spaces for special activities, right?
Yes, you are correct. Many families that come here for the amusement rides may not realize we have an aquatics center, community center, arts center, and even a theater for shows and performances. For those that want more exercise than walking around the park, we also have tennis courts and ball fields.
Scott, what do you offer for those just wanting to get a little personal exercise on a nice sunny afternoon at the Park?
I am glad you mentioned that because we have also several pathways throughout the park for guests to explore, and the most popular of these just might be a leisure stroll around Lake Howell. Now there also is a longer path, the Rocky Branch Trail that is just outside of Pullen Park and accessible via a walkway that runs along Western Blvd from the Walnut Creek Trail to the Gorman Street connector. Its almost 4 miles long and provides views of Raleigh's skyline.
Scott, now it is time to tell us a little about each of the things one can do and see at the park.
Well, there is certainly a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s look at some things we can do without a ticket.
One of the favorites of younger children is the famous Pullen Park Caboose. This is a full-size authentic caboose that was an actual train car on the Norfolk Southern Railway at one time and is one of our most popular walk-through spaces where kids can explore what it was like to live on the railroad.
Kids go in and then out, and then back in and out again – they really like that caboose!
And don’t forget our famous and picturesque “Andy and Opie statue” which is widely considered to be the centerpiece of our park. It was donated by Viacom/TVLand back in 2003. Did you know that Andy Griffin was actually here for it’s unveiling and dedication? And if this in itself was not enough, Ole Andy actually emerged from a real "Mayberry Sheriff's" squad car to pose with these nearly life-size figures.
That is simply an amazing story! I wonder how many people stop to take photos and do not realize that the Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry was here at the very beginning. So Scott, what else comes to mind?
Well, our playgrounds offer a variety of activities for children, including a giant climbing spiderweb and several age-specific areas where children can explore. There is a swing area for all ages, a climb-and-slide area for older children, sand-play for ages 2 to 12, and an entire enclosed preschool-playground for ages 2-5. Lots for the younger set to do in our playgrounds.
So, it certainly does look like there is a lot one can do in a day without having to buy any ride tickets – you can walk the park, go thru the caboose, see the Andy statue and then there are also the playgrounds. Now let’s talk about the rides that require tickets. But before you get started, some of our readers might want to know why a ticket is required for some activities.
Yes, I certainly agree this is something that everyone who visits us should understand. I first want to emphasize that guest patronage and ridership are why we exist today. Without the general public visiting our facility we would not be able to provide the exceptional experiences that we do. Things like our train and carousel are very popular and operate most of the time that the park is open. These rides, and some of the others as well, require a lot of upkeep and maintenance to keep them safe and in good operating order. And there is the cost of power as well. Tickets really help us out here. And sold tickets also allow us to consider future enhancements and offerings not only at Pullen Park, but at the other park facilities throughout Raleigh as well.
Scott, we already know that the train and the carousel are your most popular rides, so which do you want to start with?
Let’s start with Our Dentzel Carousel and its rich history first. This ride just happens to be one of the few remaining original menageries of its namesake left in the country. This one was originally in Raleigh’s Bloomsbury Park, a private amusement park developed back in 1912. Records indicate that somewhere around 1915, Raleigh purchased it and it started operating at Pullen in 1921. Bloomsbury closed after World War I, and later was subdivided into residential lots
That is a very interesting story. Now tell us about the ride itself.
Okay. So, our carousel is one of the foremost surviving works of the Pennsylvania Carousel Company, founded by Gustav A. Dentzel who emigrated from Germany in 1860 and began building carousels in the U.S. in 1876. Our carousel dates from about 1900, making it one the earliest Dentzels still in operation. Its paramount feature is a menagerie of 52 hand-carved wooden animals, the work of chief carver Salvatore Cernigliaro. In addition to its 30 horses, there are a variety of ostriches, cats, rabbits, pigs, a lion, a tiger, and even a goat. It has a 24-foot diameter and is housed in a permanent wooden-beamed shelter of tent-like design.
I almost forgot to tell you that the Pullen Park Carousel is also a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark!
Great historical ride, and now onto the Train, “all aboard”, right Scott?
Most definitely Joe!
We are most fortunate to have in the park a C.P. Huntington miniature train, a one-third size near-replica of the famous locomotive of the same name that used to run routes on the Southern and Central Pacific Railroads. Our ride takes guests through a scenic 6 ½ minute journey around the amusement area and even around our lake, allowing them to gain some perspective on the expanse and beauty of our park. There are enough open-air roofed cars for 80 passengers.
We consider the train along with our carousel to be the crowning jewels of Pullen Park!
Scott, I know you have been waiting to proudly tell all of us about your 2 most popular and prestigious annual events. That opportunity is now here.
Yes, I am so very glad this moment has finally arrived. We host 2 major events each year.
The most attended one is the “Holiday Express”, our annual celebration of the Christmas season where the park is transformed into a winter wonderland filled with lights and a variety of activities such as a sledding hill, a giant inflatable snow globe, a holiday themed train ride, and much more. to get into the park during this event, one must have previously purchased a train ticket. Once you are in the park, your ticket is all inclusive other than for the purchase if souvenirs or food, and the café will be open for food and refreshments. Be advised that this event is so popular that tickets start going on sale early and sell out right away, so if you want to go you should be ready on the first date of the sale. Ticket sale dates for 2021 have not been announced yet, but you should follow @RaleighParks on social media for the most up to date information on all of our programs.
Then there is what we call “Letterland Day”, an annual event hosted in partnership with Wake County Public Schools. For one day each year, the park is transformed into Letterland, home to the Letterlanders. Children are familiar with this classic cast of characters from their educational experiences about literacy during the school year. They walk all around the park trying to locate their favorites such as Clever Cat and Bouncing Ben while participating in educational activities along the way
What else might you have that you did not mention earlier?
We have a very nice children’s amphitheater for smaller events and activities. We’ve had events such as International Folk Tales and Fables day, The Secrets of the North Pole with Mrs. Claus, marching band performances, school group performances there. This space is also available for rent for family or children’s performers looking for a place to showcase their talents.
We also offer a large variety of classes for all ages all year such as swimming lessons, yoga, theater performances, and pottery making.
Is there any charge for some of these events?
It is very important for the public to know that while most of our events are free, a few do have a nominal charge.
If you are not sure, you can call us to find out which these are or go to our website.
Joe, is this a good time for me to briefly talk about our rental opportunities?
Yes, I almost forgot, please tell us about them.
We have several different of shelters for rent. Several have electricity, and others allow for private rental of bounce houses and other amenities, with appropriate permits of course.
One can also rent our event lawn and stage for larger scale concerts and events and our island gazebo offers a quaint space for unique gatherings such as weddings or other special ceremonies. Did you know that even the carousel can be privately rented before or after normal public hours? And the Community Center has several different size meeting rooms for rent, and even a warming kitchen as well.
What about the Pullen Park Café we often hear about?
This café is actually owned and operated by a 3rd party so we may concentrate on the park itself and its other amenities. It provides a variety of locally sourced ingredients and healthy choice options for park patrons, while also serving traditional park fare and comfort foods. In addition to serving snacks and meals during your visit to the park, they also offer catering services. You can visit them at https://pullencafe.com/ to learn more and see the menu.
What about tickets – where and how can we buy them? And can you tell us about parking as well?
While you can still buy ride tickets at our welcome center ticket window during normal business hours, I am most pleased to tell everyone that our on-line ticketing site is now up and running. You can now go to www.raleighnc.gov/reclink for ticketing and shelter reservations. Rides have a nominal charge of $1.50 except for pedal boats which can be rented for ½ hour increments for $6 per boat.
I also strongly encourage everyone to check: https://raleighnc.gov/places/pullen-park for the most up to date information on which rides are available for the day.
Parking does tend to be at scarce on weekends and holidays. We recommend coming out between 10am and 6pm Monday thru Friday if possible. General parking is located all around the park, with the main lot being just off Ashe Avenue. On busier days we have staff directing guests to the appropriate overflow parking locations.
Scott, you have spent a lot of time with us today and I know our readers really appreciate your effort. But what about your staff? How important are they to the continued success of Pullen Park?
Without our dedicated and professional staff, we would not be able to do what we do. Their first goal is to always provide a safe experience, and after that a rewarding and pleasing one. Part of this is to always be approachable and engaging. While people recognize us for our attractions, it’s the staff that can truly help make a lifelong memory for our guests. We have a park caretaker, attractions and activities assistant, attractions operators, cashier, front desk, park assistant, and then there are the event staff. We also have an operations manager, a program manager and a customer service manager who help lead our team day to day.
I enjoy the challenge of being able to hire and lead a diverse team like this. Oftentimes I am hiring people for their first job, while on the other end of the spectrum, I am hiring for a fun retirement job. Having the opportunity to help teach and coach these individuals and watch them succeed at the park and throughout their careers is truly humbling for me.
And all need to know that Pullen Park is regularly hiring our next attractions operators and cashiers, so don’t hesitate to apply and reach out to me directly: You can also go to https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/raleighnc and enter “Attractions” in the search box to learn more about our openings. The minimum commitment is 2 shifts a week, so it’s an easy going way to get out of the house and serve your community by creating exceptional experiences.
We can see you really appreciate your staff. Anything else?
I just want everyone to know that I really enjoy being able to present a safe and enjoyable experience to all our visitors. In my job, I have a figurative sandbox in which I can play with the team’s creative ideas and then help mold them to develop new and unique offerings for our guests.
And Pullen Park is an awesome place to work. We make memories here. For 130+ years, individuals have been molding this park into what it is today. My hope is that 130 years from now, people will look back and be proud of the entire legacy of the park as well as the team members behind it.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions, have interest in working here, or just want to learn more about who we are and what we have to offer.
VISIT PULLEN PARK
Main Phone number: 919-996-6468
Normal hours: September – March 10am-6pm April – October 10am-9pm
Outdoor rides hours may vary based on time sun sets
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