Lanett seniors visit the reindeer express

Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2023

OPELIKA, Ala. — More than 30 participants in the Lanett Senior Center had a fun evening on Thursday. They rode a Dobbs Transportaion bus to Opelika to ride the Rockybrook Rocket Reindeer Express in Opelika Municipal Park, widely known as “the Monkey Park.”

The family fun event for young at hearts of all ages is taking place from 5-8 p.m. CST each day through Saturday, December 16th. The circular path of the miniature train is beautifully decorated with all kinds of Christmas scenes and is well worth a trip to see it.The City of Opelika has one of the oldest parks and recreation departments in Alabama. It was organized in the post-World War II years and has been active ever since. The city park dates to the 1950s and is famed for the spider monkeys that were caged there from the mid 1950s to 1980 when they were relocated to the Montgomery zoo. Stories have been passed down through the years of monkeys escaping from their cages and being found in neighborhoods all over Opelika.

The first Rockybrook Rocket had a Central of Georgia look. That’s the rail line that allowed Opelika to grow into the city it is today. It’s where the east-west rail line from Columbus to Birmingham crossed the A&WP. That exact spot has been nicknamed “the frog” ever since because it’s where one line “hops” over the other one.

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The miniature train was beginning to show its age by 2014 before being renewed in 2016. Mayor Gary Fuller and the Opelika City Council led an effort to bring a new miniature train to the Monkey Park. Local  fundraisers and support from local civic clubs provided the needed funding.  The first train was manufactured by a miniature train company in Rensselaer, Indiana. The present train was built California and has the look of the famed Santa Fe War Bonnet trains.

“We want to thank Tifton and Daphne Dobbs for providing us free transportation to Opelika and back,” said Senior Center Manager Sandra Thornton. “Bus drivers Daniel Hurston and Antonio Johnson got us there and back safely and with much courtesy. All in all it was a wonderful outing, and our seniors enjoyed it very much. The park was beautifully lighted for the Christmas season, the children’s choirs that sang carols were truly outstanding, and the food was great. The fresh-cooked pork skins, hamburgers and the ice cream were great. We all loved seeing Santa Claus there.”

On March 31, 1956, Monkey Village opened in the city park. It housed eight spider monkeys in a habitat that included concrete block quarters, trees, flying rings and a trapeze. The monkeys provided entertainment to park visitors for almost 25 years. They were relocated to the Montgomery zoo in July 1980. Opelika officials have long believed that that city park with its monkey cages marked a turning point for the city’s recreational program.