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Md. family recreation park steeped in tradition

BOONSBORO — Family is the operative word when it comes to Family Recreation Park east of Hagerstown on National Pike.

The business was started in 1988 by Jack and Evelyn Barr as one the family could run together while providing a wholesome entertainment venue for families.

Evelyn Barr said they had visited a family-oriented park in Pennsylvania and thought the idea would work in the Hagerstown area.

“My dad wanted a family business, something all family members could enjoy — good, clean fun,” said Jayne Angle, one of Jack and Evelyn Barr’s eight children, who helps run the park with sister Jeanine Horst.

Angle has four children; Horst has six. Evelyn Barr has 22 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Jack Barr died in 1997.

“I remember when I started working with Dad. I saw him in a whole different way,” Angle said. “I got to see his wisdom that made him a successful businessman.”

Now, the family would like to sell the business, as their lives and schedules have changed.

“It will be interesting to see what a new set of eyes could do,” said Angle, who said a new owner might find a way to keep it open all year.

The property has been proposed by the family as a site for lacrosse and soccer fields.

The park features a kiddie train, miniature golf, figure 8 track, water wars, driving range, junior go-karts, slick track, inflatables, paintball, game room, batting cages and outside pavilion rentals.

“The children, working in a family business, watched the long hours and developed a sense of work ethic that has carried on into their adult life,” Horst wrote in an email.

Once the family business idea was proposed, the family began scouting possible locations. They settled on a property on National Pike that had been the Hi-Way Drive-In movie theater.

The theater had ceased operations. For the new family entertainment center, the projection building was raised and became the snack bar, then a game room was added.

Angle has lovingly kept a scrapbook of the business, as though it were a family member. There are photos of the family tearing down the movie screen, pictures of the mini-golf course being built, and reminders of the many special events the park has hosted.

“It has given us a lot of joy and memories,” Angle said.

Over the years, hundreds of local teens have worked at the seasonal park. Horst said they hire between 47 and 62 employees in a season, including their own children, most of whom worked during their high school and college years.

“I’m sitting here thinking how many friendships developed here. It was more than just a job for a 15- or 16-year-old,” said Horst, who added that it was a safe place to work, where workers learned a sound work ethic.

There have even been several weddings among employees who met while working at Family Rec.

The adults in charge not only taught their teenage employees job skills, but were role models and good listeners.

“They should have opened up a counseling service,” Barr said.

With time, the Barr grandchildren have grown up and worked at the park, but now have careers and families of their own.

“Our children are not involved anymore. Jeanine’s daughter helped and she just had a baby. Mom [Evelyn] is 80 years old and taking care of her mother, who is 98,” Angle said.

Angle works full time at Shepherd University in West Virginia, and Horst just earned her teaching degree and is working part time at Cascade Elementary School and occasionally at the central office for Washington County Public Schools.

Horst said that since Angle started working at Shepherd in 2007, the day-to-day operations from opening to closing, scheduling, ordering and hiring have been done by Horst and her daughter, Rachael Rohrer. Angle helps when she’s able, as do other employees and family members.

“I would say we’ve been able to say our children have been here. We’ve both been able to work with our kids and cousins,” Horst said.

Horst said she hopes to get a full-time teaching position, which would only leave her free to work at Family Rec in the summer.

“Getting the season started begins in the winter months and takes many hands to run a successful business, and we have depended on spouses and siblings to help out,” Horst wrote in an email.

Although the park closes in October, there is still paperwork to be done. Work begins in January and February on insurance, and job applicants are interviewed in March, with hopes of opening for the season in April if weather permits.

“Every time you walk out the door, you remember. It’s just like a family home,” Angle said. “You remember events, family celebrations. It’s a connection to our family.”