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Documentary to highlight history of Midway State Park

Photo submitted by Peter Daulton Daulton is pictured in the early 1980s while on the set of his first film, “Return of the Jedi.” Daulton, who grew up in Bradford, Pa., worked nearly 40 years in visual effects on numerous films in his career.

He may best be known for his work on many of the Star Wars films, but Pennsylvania native Peter Daulton is eyeing a Chautauqua County treasure as the focus of an independent documentary.

Daulton was set to begin filming this week at Midway State Park for what will end up as a half-hour film for PBS tentatively set to air near Memorial Day in 2023. The former visual effects artist has an impressive resume for his decades of work on numerous big-budget films, but is known for his independent projects as well.

His 2018 documentary, “Ride,” focused on the Albany Carousel in Oregon.

Daulton grew up in Bradford, Pa., and visited Midway as a child. “Some of my truest, fondest memories are going to it as a young kid,” he said. “It’s designed for smaller kids.”

In the ’90s while driving through the area, Daulton came across the park. Though he didn’t have time to stop at the time, he vowed to return to the site of so many great childhood memories.

Photos by Eric Tichy Pictured late Tuesday morning is Midway State Park along Route 430 in Maple Springs. Peter Daulton, an independent filmmaker and former visual effects artist, is set to shoot a half hour documentary on the history of the park for airing on PBS.

“It’s amazing. It hasn’t changed since the ’60s,” Daulton said.

Midway, located on Route 430 in Maple Springs near Chautauqua Lake, was established in 1898 as a trolley park. According to the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, it is “one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the nation.”

In July 1998, Midway Park celebrated its centennial. About six years later, in 2004, Michael and Janis Walsh put the park up for sale. The pair had purchased the park from Michael Walsh’s father two decades earlier.

In an October 2005 announcement that surprised some local and county officials, then-Gov. George Pataki said New York would purchase Midway to make it a state park. “We owe a great deal of credit to those who had the vision for this park in 1898, and also those who maintain it today,” Pataki said. “For $4 million we will be purchasing Midway Park and making sure it stays open for another 102 years.’

That history of the park appeals to Daulton, who had a nearly 40-year career in special effects; his first job, according to his IMDb page, was as an assistant cameraman with Industrial Light & Magic working on “Return of the Jedi” released in 1983. His last work, fittingly, was on 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker.”

In retirement from special effects, Daulton hopes to produce more documentaries. Up first will be about Midway and its history as a trolley park. The film’s title is “Trolley Park: Midway.”

“Memories will touch on the history of trolley parks and have interviews with local residents about their earliest memories of Midway,” Daulton said. “We will also talk about how the park was saved by becoming part of the New York state park system.”

Daulton hopes to find similar success with this documentary as he did with “Ride,” viewed by millions on PBS. “We want to repeat that,” he said.

He does have some goals when it comes to showcasing Midway State Park. “I think two things,” he said. “To inspire Midway and show the way it’s been preserved for so many generations. … And to kind of remind people of the joy of the experience they had there — that joy that many of us experienced at that park, share with children and grandchildren, share that joy in any way possible.”

Filming will take place throughout the month, including Midway’s opening weekend May 28, 29 and 30. Daulton encourages those who enjoy the park to attend and be part of the film.

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