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September 15, 2012
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Go Bananas

Bananas Fun Park is one of those places where people will smile at you and say, "I saw your kids. They're having fun."

And this they'll tell you while you're sitting in a go-kart waiting for your turn to hit the gas.

Chris Burns and his wife, Heather, have owned and operated Bananas Fun Park in Grand Junction since they built it nine years ago. They're doing fine.

"Even in this economy, it's our best year ever," Chris said. "People are staying close to home for vacations, and that's understandable. Colorado is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and Bananas is a great way to spend a day."

There's a lot to like about the place.

It's less than two hours from the Vail Valley, it's open year-round, it's moderately priced, Grand Junction is warm and Bananas Fun Park leads the league in laughs per hour.

"People love it as long as they're having fun, and I guarantee they'll have fun here," Burns said. "We keep it clean, keep it organized."

Do yourself a favor and get the all-day pass for $25.50; $17.50 for the younger kids. They get to do everything until they can't do it any more. It's time and money well spent.

Teen tales

A couple weeks back, I hauled three teenaged boys to Bananas for the monthly Friday night Teen Bash Night, which takes place every second Friday night of the month.

We found hundreds of like-minded kids doing everything Bananas offers, and in between, wandering around looking at each other - exactly like you used to when you were their age. There were lots of uniformed security people, so nothing untoward was allowed to happen, not then or any other time.

And that's the main thing, Burns said. You can bring the family, turn out the kids and there's enough fun stuff to convince you to stick around and do some of it your own grown-up self.

"It's safe. We've had almost no trouble at all over these many years. It's a family entertainment center," Burns said.

Go-karts are still the most popular attraction. The two-story lazer tag is a big draw. You gotta try the bumper boats so you can soak your kids with a water cannon. Grand Junction is warm and dry, so they won't stay wet long, and neither will you.

Now that's entertainment

Burns insisted on an 18-hole miniature golf course and batting cages when they built Bananas about a decade ago, among other things.

Burns played professional minor league baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals organization and remembers bus trips and hotels.

"You have lots of down time. I was always the guy who looked in the phone book to find a place with go-karts or a water park - something fun to do," Burns said.

He'd grab three or four guys and call a taxi, or have a coach drop them off or catch a bus, and off they'd go.

When his professional baseball career was over, he landed back in Grand Junction and went to work for Holsum Bakery, which his father managed. That was the early 1980s, just after Black Sunday and the energy industry crash that gutted Colorado's economy.

He was happy to have a job, any job. Before long he was delivering bread from Grand Junction to places as far-flung as Silverthorne.

He did it for 16 years.

About 14 years into that stretch, a buddy from California was visiting, and Burns and his wife wondered what to do for their young son's birthday.

His buddy suggested they rent some inflatable bounce castles.

"You have anything like that around here?" his buddy asked.

"No, we don't," Burns said, but wondered why not.

So they flew to Visalia, Calif., to visit someone who did. They liked the idea and bought an inflatable dinosaur, a spaceship and a red and yellow castle.

His mom questioned her son's business acumen.

"You think people will pay to do that?" she asked him.

"Yes, they will," Burns told his mother.

And they did.

Burns and his wife kept their real jobs. He kept delivering bread, "our main bread and butter," he calls it, but they were in the entertainment business.

They bought some more inflatables and a dunk tank, and then they went to a trade show in Orlando, Fla., and decided to go big and open Bananas Fun Park.

Bankers didn't quite catch the vision, so financing was tough to find. And the city didn't quite see it, either. But eventually Burns had everything in place.

He contracted the people from Boondocks, a similar setup in Denver, to help him build it, and the rest is giggles and laughs.

These days, they draw from Colorado's mountain resort areas to eastern Utah.

"Between Salt Lake and Denver, it's a great option," Burns said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Sep 15, 2012 06:20PM Published Sep 15, 2012 06:18PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.