The park, now in its 25th year, tested the waters during the weekend in preparation for its official opening this week. Carothers is no stranger to opening weekend, having been with Wild Island since its inception. He said Monday it was a busy time for Wild Island.
“I am just really excited with what the managers have done with staff so far,” Carothers said, adding that the soft opening worked effectively. “There is definitely some things we can improve on before we open the doors and we just want to learn from those mistakes with a young staff.”
Carothers remembers well rising through the ranks at Wild Island, especially his first summer when his age secured him a supervising position, but his destiny didn’t become apparent until he was put in the leadership role.
“Once I became the supervisor, it just clicked,” Carothers said. “I didn’t know I had a skill set that way and I had never really been in a position where I needed to lead anybody. They really brought me along and molded me.
“I had aspirations to go somewhere (after college), but I think in the back of my mind, and the owners’ minds, I knew I was going to be here. I knew college was going to be able to give me more to give back to the park. Anything I have wanted to go out and do, they (owners) have supported me. In turn, I say ‘How can I apply that to Wild Island.’”
Carothers has become accustomed to being asked how he could work at Wild Island for 25 years, and his answer can initially raise an eyebrow.
“It’s weird it really hasn’t set in,” he said of the 25th anniversary. “It’s crazy because people ask me all the time how I have worked here for 25 years. The biggest thing I always tell them is I am not afraid of change. The cool thing about this company is that we are not corporate and they allow us to do a lot of different things and we move very fast.
“In this industry, you have to move quick and you can’t be afraid to take chances in order to add value to the guest coming out. The biggest thing I can say to people is that every year is different. We are always trying to improve and that means getting bigger or adding rides or changing things. That is what keeps me going.”
Carothers constantly referred to the “family atmosphere” that comes with being a Wild Island employee, and he was not the only one with a long tenure at the park. Shannon Reynolds recently finished 15 years, beginning first as a life guard before moving into management positions. She said growing up at the park allowed her to realize the role she could play in it.
“I have grown up a lot here, I have grown up with everybody here and this is my family. Everybody is really passionate,” Reynolds said. “It is the family atmosphere and you start to take a lot more ownership of everything that has happened. It is always about how to make things better.”
Reynolds is now a full-time CrossFit instructor in the area and she said the upcoming season looks promising if last weekend was any indication. Carothers admitted he didn’t want to see Reynolds leave, but said he was proud to see that she finds so many of her skills transferrable.
“There are a lot of things I will take with me to my new job,” she said. “If it is not well put together, or you don’t take ownership of it, or you don’t care about it, then you can’t make anybody else care about it. I think it translates from organization and seeing how important passion is.
“It takes time and it takes effort, and it takes messing a few things so you can learn to grow and change things up. I want to make sure that I am constantly improving in all aspects of life.”
Picking up the slack from losing a 15-year coworker was not too difficult for Carothers and his staff, who began coming up with ideas immediately. The collaboration of his team did not always come natural, but he said it proved how much he has learned as a general manager.
“The hard part for me was kind of letting go and allowing the managers that we hired to do the things that they do well,” he said. “You have to allow that creativity on their own and be a part of it but not take it from A to Z.
“It’s a difficult task and you kind of go from micro to macro as a GM. You share the success and you are not the spotlight. I think that came with maturity and getting older, I don’t need as many of those things.”
Perhaps one of the most important things Carothers learned in his time at Wild Island is how much of an impact the park can have on a family. After meeting his wife of 14 years at the park, and seeing several of his coworkers do the same, he said watching his daughter grow up there clarifies his love for the job.
“It is amazing for me to see people that come out to the park the way I saw them when I worked out there,” Carothers said. “Now all of the sudden I have this family and I come out here to do this stuff. It gives you goosebumps and you realize why this is so special.
“That is why it is so cool for our local community because people make memories here. The synergy that happened between the community and the business is a special thing. We have a business because they come out to support us, and we support the community in providing entertainment and providing a place for people and their kids to work.”