War is hell, except when the warring sides use paint instead of bullets, then it’s just messy fun.
“People like the camaraderie and the adrenaline of (paintball),” Larry Morgan, the owner of Area 52 in Mackinaw, said. “Those would be a couple of the big reasons.”
Those reasons, Morgan said, were why he initially wanted to run a paintball course.
“Me and my kids were playing together and there wasn’t anything right here in the Mackinaw area,” Morgan said. “Places have opened since but that is what made me want to do it initially.”
One major change in the history of Area 52, Morgan said, is where the competition now comes from.
“I’ve been open for 15 years,” Morgan said. “For me, one thing that sticks in my head is that we don’t sell as much stuff, we compete with the Internet for that. We don’t focus on retail stuff as much as we used to.”
Furthermore, Morgan said the nature of the game at Area 52 has changed as well.
“We have worked more toward recreational play as far as stepping away from tournament play,” Morgan said. “We focus more on recreational play overall now. We also do canoe/kayak rentals on the Mackinaw River now too. That’s a big part of the site.”
In addition to different competition and a new style of play, Morgan said Area 52 has grown in size over his tenure.
“We’ve added fields,” Morgan said. “We’ve built new bunkers and changed the layout of it. We just kind of change it after awhile to make it easier. We make it easier to get in and off of the field and easier to manage.”
Compared to other fields in the area, Morgan said that Area 52 has a distinct leg up that helps it stay open year round.
“What advantage we have over other places is that we have a 2,000-square-foot area where you can be inside and then go outside between games,” Morgan said. “You can come inside and warm up between games. A lot of fields don’t have that and you can’t be outside for that long in 30 degree weather with paintballs.”
Over at the Pekin Paintball Park, video game players might notice a familiar location.
“We wanted to build something that resonated with several different age groups and different walks of life,” owner Mike McKinley said of the new Call of Duty area. “It seems like everyone loves Call of Duty so that’s what we went with.”
The newly opened area, McKinley said, is something that has been the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“Everyone has been shocked,” McKinley said. “A lot of people don’t have the visual mindset to see what it would look like when it’s done. When people see it they have said it’s awesome with all the finishing touches added.”
Outside of the videogame map, McKinley said the park has other unique areas.
“We have the biggest castle in the area and it’s really cool,” McKinley said. “We are the only place in the area that has outdoor Astroturf, all our fields are Astroturf.
“We cater to a lot of birthday and bachelor parties and stuff like that too. We have a parent’s lounge inside with WIFI and cable so they can stay entertained while their kids are out having fun.”
For McKinley, who opened the business in 2010, paintball is a passion.
“I had seen a need that wasn’t being met so I fulfilled that need,” McKinley said. “I play competitively myself. It’s fun, exhilarating and gets the adrenaline going. Anyone can do it too. If you are tall, short, skinny or fat, it doesn’t matter.”