GOING BANANAS! Grand Junction amusement business marks 10 years
The view from the miniature golf course at Bananas Fun Park takes in the entire seven acres.
Co-owner Chris Burns stands on a bluff at the heart of the course, just a few paces from a shipwrecked galleon. His weather-worn face beams — a mix of pride and satisfaction.
Let there be no doubt. Burns’ family hand-cleans and cares for every inch of the place. Springtime flora blooms across the landscape the family helped build with their own hands.
Burns and his wife, Heather, conceived of it more than 10 years ago, a vision based in part on their childhood experiences at Guyton’s Fun Junction, one of the city’s earliest kiddie attractions.
“I remember back when I played Little League. After a game, we’d go to Guyton’s. We’d sneak to the back of the park and watch the movies at the Big Chief drive-in,” he said. “Remember those days?”
Recalling the past, Burns contemplated the fun park’s next 10 years. Celebrating the park’s 10-year anniversary with special discounts for the entire month of May, Burns hinted at plans for a water attraction sometime in the future. The details are still considered hush-hush, he said.
He breathes deep and looks west. Colorado National Monument supplies the backdrop for the park’s 10 sparkling clean attractions. Cottonwoods sway in the distance, marking the route of the Colorado River, which rushes past nearby.
Fit in middle age, Burns appears every bit like the minor league pitcher he once was. He squints and points with calloused hands to where the go-kart track twists and coils. The 24 race cars can attain speeds of up to 17 mph. They are the most popular attractions at the park, he said.
He spies the bumper boats and explains the obvious benefits of water attractions in the heat of the Grand Junction summer.
Burns knows well the Grand Valley’s four seasons. He was born in Grand Junction more than 50 years ago. His father taught him the value of a dollar and the work ethic required to earn one, he said.
After being a college athlete, Burns worked his arm long and hard trying to make it as a big-league pitcher, but it was a dream he ultimately realized would never materialize.
“I used to travel the country a lot when I was with the minor leagues and we’d always have a little down time. Back in the old days, I was the guy who would go find some miniature golf or go-karts or some little fun park. I’d get four or five guys together — 18, 19, 20 years old — and we’d have a great time.”
Next, he drove trucks to help support his growing family. He navigated the mountain passes and lonely deserts of western Colorado for 16 years. He met a lot of people during his time on the road, some of whom eventually became investors in the park, he said.
Obviously, the phrase “overnight success” simply doesn’t apply. So what triggered the switch from wage earner to business owner?
“I just always knew I could do more,” he said. “I’m a sports guy and I always liked the stuff that fun parks offered,” especially attractions where he got to show off his throwing arm and win a stuffed animal.
In 1997, he and Heather launched a rental business, Bump and Jump.
Delivering bouncy houses, castles and other inflatable structures to birthday parties, festivals and other events around the region continues to be a core business for Bananas, Burns said.
As it gradually became more financially feasible, Heather Burns quit her job at City Market, followed three years later by Chris, who retired from driving trucks to help operate the rental business full time.
Around 2003, the Burns family saw an opportunity to bring back the fun of their childhood experiences at Guyton’s.
After rounding up a team of local investors, they searched for financing at local banks, using the rental business as leverage. Seven banks denied them loans. Finally, one local lender embraced the couple’s vision and loaned them $3 million to build.
Yes, it is possible for the two Grand Junction go-getters to find themselves at odds once in a while, a situation which can get complicated on account of them being partners in business and in life, but the duo always finds a way to stay on track, Chris Burns said, whether it’s in the go-karts or on the bumper boats.