Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...West Virginia



Not long ago, a study was done to determine which state was the "most mountainous". Not which state had the biggest mountains, but the state where it seemed that people would encounter the most mountains or most perceptibly be around mountains. That state was, to some folk's suprirse, the one that had already received the nickname "The Mountaineer State" over a century prior. West Virginia usually gets short shrift from the coastal elite as a state that is deeply backwards culturally. History says that the state was created when Unionist counties in space not particularly conducive to cotton growing within Virginia broke away as a result of the US Civil War. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, West Virginia was home to much of the violent fighting between mercenaries hired by coal mines along with occasional assistance received from the US Army (including aerial bombardment!) against newly unionized workers seeking higher wages and safer conditions.



Yes, West Virginia has problems. That's what happens when the infrastructure for your area is largely left up to the state to fund and there's no flat land anywhere. If it wasn't for deals worked out by (former Klansman and future Democrat) Senator Robert Byrd via "pork barrel spending", who even knows what the state would resemble in terms of rail lines, freeways, and buildings. West Virginia probably needs a lot more of that long term to become more sustainable, if that is even a possibility.



Those ancient days of labor union fighting coincided with a period of of small trolley companies and their amusement parks. West Virginia had many such parks - I did some light research and came up with the names of 15 long, long gone parks. Some of these had closed a century ago with nary a sign of their existence except a road that had never been renamed. Only one park remains in the state - Camden Park, a 116 year old ex-trolley park built by the Camden Interstate Railway Company along the banks of the Ohio River. The park long appeared on the endangered list - I remember going there for the first time and seeing the long defunct Thunderbolt Express Arrow Shuttle coaster sitting there in an advanced state of decay - but has seemed to turn around with some reasonable investments and clean up. Camden is even making an unexpected appearance in a video game - Fallout '76.



With so few permanent facilities in the state, we should go about mentioning the largest single collection of amusement rides the state sees: the West Virginia State Fair. Reithoffer sources the rides at present, and this year's event will see 3 coasters going up, along with a pile of flat rides.



West Virginia has a few small water parks: Waves of Fun in Huntington and Water Ways in Julian are the main outdoor facilities the state has. ACE Adventure Resort in Oak Hill has a "water park" in so much as they have a swimming hole with a bunch of big inflatable things in it to climb on or jump off of. More interesting is the "non themed" attractions they have - walking the maintenance paths inside the New River Gorge Bridge, spelunking, zip lines, and white water rafting.



Finally, Wheeling's Oglebay Good Zoo is not only AZA accredited and alone in the state as such, but home to a train ride that's pretty lengthy and leaves the zoo itself to wander into the surrounding 1650 acres of Oglebay Park.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Washington

The Evergreen State! Full of lumber, rocky coast line, volcanoes, and rainy summers, Washington is pretty much defined by the Pacific coastline even though there's a lot of space in Eastern Washington consisting of rolling hills and farm land. There's 1000 dams, killer whales, and really expensive real estate (at least in greater Seattle). Also: state cops won't arrest you for possession of weed. How about that?



With no big theme parks in the state, Washington sure seems like an "under served" market, but it's worth keeping in mind that it's a pretty cheap flight from SEA-TAC to Southern California. What Washington does have is a surprising number of community and non-profit related amusement attractions. None of these is bigger than the State Fairgrounds in Puyallup. For two weeks a year, it entertains over a million people with a mix of permanent attractions that's greater than any other in the nation. Most famous: Classic Coaster, a wood coaster from 1935 that has the very last set of Prior and Church trains rolling in existence. It's kept in fantastic shape and is super fun (I've somehow managed to ride it?). Also - A Top Fun Typhoon coaster. Not good, but at least unique in all of North America. There's several interesting flat rides too (Huss Jump and Zierer Hexentanz for instance), a Von Roll 101, S&S Drop Tower, and a PTC Carousel at what is undoubtedly the coolest and best lineup overall of any fair in the hemisphere.



The largest permanent park in the state is Wild Waves Theme Park, operated by Premier Parks (who sold most of their operation contracts to Six Flags, except this one). There aren't any rides which one might consider a "global standout" - Timberhawk: Ride Of Prey, the park's wood coaster, was generally seen as a disappointment when it opened. Other rides and slides in the park are fairly standard production model attractions that are commonplace in the regional park universe with one possible exception. Wild Waves uses topography to its benefit by having installed a all season tubing hill - yes, snowless snowtubing is possible in the 2010s. Isn't technology incredible?



Less technologically advanced are the state's other permanent facilities. The Rides at Long Beach, WA have a set of 1960s/1970s era Fiberglass bodied Lusse bumper cars in addition to several other classic iron rides a short distance from the ocean. Remlinger Farms has a classic car ride of it's own: its Antique Car ride comes from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. There's also train rides, a kiddie coaster, and several other attractions primarily geared for children to accompany the farm goods.



The City of Seattle is itself home to multiple attractions of note. The Seattle Great Wheel opened at Pier 57 in 2012 as the West Coast's tallest observation wheel. Standing 175 feet tall, it sure looks like a Bussink wheel (or at least from the Wheels of Excellence series he started), complete with air conditioned pods and everything. 300 feet away is Wings Over Washington, a flying theater attraction that had a lot of investment put into the theming and design of its queuing and station. It looks really fantastic for a standalone attraction of its kind.



Greater Seattle/Tacoma has a few family entertainment centers of note too. Tukwila Family Fun Center might sound like just another place with putt-putt and go-karts, but they have a strange selection of more thrilling rides like a S&S Screaming Swing installation and a small drop tower. There's also a "Driving School" attraction similar to what you would find at a Legoland park (small cars in a faux cityscape small children can drive). The Edmonds iteration of the same group's facility lacks some of the cooler and weirder stuff, but does have some 70s/80 era Italian bumper cars.



Washington, like the midwestern states detailed in previous iterations of the series, has a few fairgrounds with their own individual attractions. In the case of Washington, this means often means carousels. The Pioneer Picnic and Rodeo in Bickelton near the Oregon border in central Washington has a super rare Spillman-Herschell Carousel that is powered by a steam engine for just a few days a year during the event. Ferry County's got it's own mixed machine carousel full of rarely seen Dare, Armitage-Herschell, and Herschell-Spillman, and they were smart enough to put limitations on the sale of the carousel to prevent it ever leaving the county. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival has a carousel brought in exclusively for it by the Dentzel family - it's not for adults, but the Flying Horses style menagerie carousel only runs that week specifically there as an example of their "Village Carousel" concept. While not possessing a carousel, The Evergreen County Fairgrounds does have the Western Heritage Museum offering frontiersman living museum realness.



Outside of the Seattle orbit, there's a number of smaller parks and attractions which are have carved out their own little piece of the entertainment market. Miniature World Blaine, not far from the BC border and Bellingham, has train rides with a very not-off-the-shelf miniature train. During the holiday season, they take advantage of the region's surprisingly warm temperatures to run a Christmas train with lights and displays galore. Hunter's Christmas Tree Farm in Olympia has a carousel, Super Slide, Corn Maze, and stuff like pony rides for young kids. Riverfront Park on the old 1974 Expo grounds in Spokane has a Carousel with rings (plastic, but still; RINGS!), a modern scenic skyride with fully enclosed gondolas, and a smattering of kids rides. There's also a standalone carousel in Kennewick: Gesa Carousel of Dreams: the original Silver Beach Carousel from St. Joseph Michigan.



Washington has some water parks: Great Wolf Lodge has an outpost here in Grand Mound, and there are small water parks throughout the state like Slidewaters in Lake Chelan or Surf N' Slide in Lake Moses. Birch Bay Waterslides has some old school terrain slides and a big speed slide that differentiates itself from the pack. Splashdown serves the Spokane market with modern slide tech like bowls.



Its also worth noting that there are several reasonably sized zoos in the state. Point Defiance and Woodland Park Zoos have carousels in the Seattle/Tacoma area, and the latter has animatronic dinosaurs too. The Northwest Trek Wildlife Park has tram rides and ziplining for visitors who want to get different perspectives on the animal exhibits.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #151 - Black and Yellow



Alan and Joe talk news as we cover Kennywood's new Steelers Country and The Steel Curtain including sports representation in amusement parks, the prospect of other team ups, Steel Curtain's design, and thematic design in relation to the "sports ball" crowd. Then we dive into Cedar Fair, Cedar Point, and Carowinds news; Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration opens; and we close out with some trip reports to Toronto and Chicago.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Virginia

Virginia, the most metropolitan of the ex-Confederate states, has had a prodigious history of outdoor amusements. With long Atlantic coast and great beaches to the east and mountains to the west, proximity to the DC metropolis (cities like Alexandria and Arlington are its most well known suburbs), and its own substantive citites (Richmond, Norfolk), we could spend an entire article discussing the parks that were once here. There's enough going on now that we can move past that.



Modern regional themers like Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion certainly dominate the state's landscape when it comes to rides. Both are 1970s era theme parks with all the hallmarks of that design philosophy. Busch Gardens has retained much more of it's original character thanks to better management in the 90s and 2000s, but it is fair to say both parks are primarily a mix of roller coasters, water rides, and spinners. The only tracked dark ride at either is actually Kings Dominion's Ghost Blasters ride from Sally following the untimely demise of DarKastle. The state also has an exceptionally well known water park: Water Country USA is part of the SeaWorld empire, and could be described best as Aquatica North: many similar attractions like the action river and big modern slides. If that isn't enough, the area is also home to a Great Wolf Lodge, ensuring one can chase down water slides with more water slides. I also need to mention Colonial Williamsburg, a quasi-living history museum that's also a functioning set of businesses. Admission is required to enter many of the buildings, but individuals can walk around the majority of it for absolutely no price whatsoever. Again, this is pretty well known about, and that's not the purpose of the series.



We start with water parks: Massanutten Resort has both indoor and outdoor slides and attractions, allowing it to offer aquatic fun year round, highlighted by an indoor Flowrider setup. The largest water park not connected in some way to one of the big dog themers is Ocean Breeze in Virginia Beach, a fairly large facility with all super modern, first run slides mostly from the folks at ProSlide. Plus, being honest, their gigantic money wearing a Hawaiian shirt mascot that towers over guests at the entrance is pretty fantastic (equally great: named Hugh Mungus).



Virginia Beach's days as being a target for coaster enthusiasts is long gone now - same with dark ride fans following the closure of Capt' Cline's Pirate Ghost Ride. There is a small amusement facility called Atlantic Fun Park here still running with a few classic flat rides, as well as a related go-kart facility named Motor World a bit further from the beach. If you're looking for more excitement than that, you'll have to opt for miniature golf to get your kicks. There's several unique courses that o over the top in terms of theme; Jungles and Pirates may be typical for the genre, but Jungle Golf and Pirates Paradise still go all in to draw in visitors. And then for indoor courses, Top Gun Mini Golf with it's naval theme is certainly a unique spot to play.



Zoos in Virginia, like most of the nation, have expanded to offer amusement rides and attractions. Virginia Zoo in Norfolk and Metro Richmond Zoo both have train rides past animal exhibits, for example. Metro Richmond Zoo also ups the ante with a skyride over animal exhibits - it has chairlift seating rather than enclosed gondolas, but it's still really cool. Fort Chiswell Animal Park is a non AZA accredited facility which spends a lot of time breeding for captivity, and in turn they run "Safari Tours" using converted school buses.



In the family entertainment center side of things, Virginia has two noteworthy spots to reference. Central Park Fun-Land in Fredericksburg recently opened an SBF Visa Spinning coaster in the summer of 2018, replacing an older kiddie coaster. This bolstered their indoor/outdoor lineup of go kart tracks, mini golf, kiddie rides, virtual reality experience, laser tag, et al. Go-Karts Plus in Williamsburg has a Python Pit that shifted around the country from its original home in a Cleveland shopping mall. The FEC also has bumper cars and 3 Go-Kart tracks.



Virginia, as one of the original 13 states, has a lot of history. And what says "history" like carousels? Several small city parks have carousels: Burke Lake, Lee District, Lake Fairfax, Hampton Carousel Park, and Lake Accontink Parks all have rides, whether wood or metal. Bundoran Farm is the least known of the bunch: two kiddie carousels, meticulously restored, but with websites in various states of non-maintenance. The National Carousel Association hasn't updated their listing for the rides since 2002, so I went to the source and got an update. The hand cranked George Marx Carousel is now in downtown Charlottesville and owned by the Discovery Museum, whereas the Mangels portable carousel (which is built on a horse carriage) is still in the possession of Bundoran Farm. It also turns out that the Children's Museum of Richmond has a small carousel, but details about the maker are limited (it may be a modern Italian built one with fiberglass/metal pieces).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #150 - LARP Your Face Off



OG crew is back as Joe, Lane, Mike, and Nick are here to talk Fast & Furious Supercharged impressions, Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration, catch up on Halloween Horror Nights news, and then invite on Lane's sister Amy to talk about Toy Story Land, Minnie Vans, Victoria and Alberts, and more!

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Vermont



In the public eye thanks to the emergence of Bernie Sanders as an unlikely counterculture political figure, Vermont is the second least populated state in the US. Rugged and mountainous, far enough north to be plenty cold in the winter, low in crime, and home to top flight universities like Dartmouth: Vermont is certainly a place of contrasts. There's lots of guns, but also comparatively high taxation sometimes blamed for an outflow of people. I have things I could say about that further, but won't - I'll spare you a discussion of a sociological/economic nature today. What you're here for is talk about amusement/theme parks.

Without many people to have density of population, there was rarely a need for street cars, and with no street cars, no trolley parks. Only two amusement places are well established in the history of the state: Barber Park opened somewhere between 1900 and 1910, and closed its doors by 1924. Little is known of the park; a "Shoot The Chutes" postcard exist, which appears to be little more than a slide on a natural hillside. Concerts and Vaudeville shows seemed to be the primary attractions. Clement's Park is noted in Robert Cartmell's original coaster tome Incredible Scream Machine as having had a Figure 8 side friction coaster, and that's about the only record that exists of the park.



It would be nearly a century after the closing of the PTC built Figure 8 that Vermont would again obtain a permanent roller coaster of some kind. Okemo Mountain was first in the region with a Mountain Coaster, opening the Timber Ripper in 2010. They'd be followed by a huge Aquatic Development Group attraction at Killington Resort in 2015. Given the popularity of the ski resorts here, it makes a whole lot of sense to replace the long existing alpine slides with a safer 4 season option, and just like everywhere else in the country, that's happening at a torrid pace.



Kiddie parks do have a place in modern Vermont: Quechee Gorge Village opened in 1985 as a regional shopping destination, and plans to add children's rides (including a used Wisdom coaster) in 2018. Santa's Land USA has had many struggles over the years: the rumor that it occupies the space once held by the defunct Clement's Park maybe has something to do with it. It was purchased and reopened after some heavy renovations in 2017. They have a short summer season, but hopefully with a smaller collection of attractions, they can hang on for a good while.



The state is also pretty low on water parks. Pump House Water Park at Jay Peak Resort is the largest water park of any kind, indoor or outdoor, in the state. at 50,000 square feet, it probably could be listed as "midsize" in the genre, having an Aqualoop and a Flowrider.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Utah

In this edition of the Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions, we will not go to that old trope of "Let's mock Mormons." You want a fact? Mormons are generally pretty nice people. They usually spend a lot of time with their kids, they aren't really rude, and while they have opinions I don't agree with related to caffeine or beer ABV or a lot of things, Mormons are a particularly offensive group. Enough of them nearly flipped to vote for a random FBI agent in the 2016 election that it could have sent the entire Presidential election to a drawing of straws. So we aren't going to do that. It's cheap and easy and shooting fish in a barrel.

Besides, it's a cop out to not talk about what Utah actually is like: it's an outdoor wonderland with incredible mountain and ski resorts (which we'll talk about), awesome river rafting, deserts, rock formations, cliffs, canyons, vast salt flats, prairie, yup, Utah has that. The golden spike was driven into the Transcontinential Railroad here. The Winter Olympics happened here in 2002. Other things happened here too. OK, so look, let's go back and talk about Mormons, but respectfully, OK? Salt Lake City isn't just a Delta Airlines pseudo-hub: it's literally the equivalent of the Vatican or Jerusalem to a distinct religious sect with a few million followers. There are 1 million more Mormons than Jews in the US. I just looked it up. It's true. I could even cite sources! And when you're someone's Vatican, it is fairly easy to say important things happened there at some point, even if I may be skeptical of certain claims related to those important things.



In the history of the region, Utah has had two significant amusement parks: Lagoon and Saltair Beach. Saltair Beach had some space for swimming, and if you look at photos from the period, you can see what is ostensibly an amusement pier style park. Except that unlike most of these types of parks, it is well inland. And unlike all of the inland boardwalk parks (I'm looking at you, Indiana Beach and Cedar Point), it had salt water. Really salty water from the Great Salt Lake, which if you have never been is admittedly not very attractive, smells funny, and has an enormous amount of brine flies. This may not sound like a conducive environment for outdoor recreation, but when you are otherwise at high altitude on a plateau, and this is the body of water you've got, it is the amusement park you have. Well, at least until it burned to the ground in 1925, then again in 1931, then when the water receded and a train had to be built to get people to the water in 1933, and then finally in 1967 and 1970 with, you guessed it, more fires. Big wood structures in the desert are flammable. Who knew?



That doesn't mean there isn't a Saltair now. The original's pylons are sitting in the dirt of the receding Great Salt Lake. Meanwhile, almost within visual distance, is Saltair II, built around an old Air Force hangar and nearish to the Salt Lake. It's a concert venue/convention center sorta thing. Primus and Mastodon are playing there on July 2nd if that sound appealing to you; Jack White shows up on July 9. The spirit lives on, kinda sorta. And if you step out to the water, you can imagine what it was like way back in the early 1900s, floating in water that won't let you do anything but, surrounded by the mummified corpses of seagulls who miscalculated dives at prey.



But enough about the past: There's the present, and that's Lagoon. Except Lagoon falls under every definition of "known" - it's big, it advertises outside it's market, it draws in excess of a million people, it even fabricates and builds it's own rides. Lagoon has some negatives: the water park isn't that great, I'm not that hot on the animal enclosures on the zoo train, and the food is generally pretty bad. However, the park does a lot in terms of fit and finish to rides with regards to stations and queue lines which rarely is seen by smaller parks or even regional themers. It is well landscaped. It has two dark rides, and an array of unique roller coasters. It's pretty wonderful. It even has its own Pioneer Village area with museum exhibitry and a prison. Yes, Lagoon has a jail, and they even used to put up prisoners in it. None of this is a lie.



But reading about Lagoon isn't enough to justify writing about this. You want different. You want new. Enter: The Train Shoppe and Ricochet Canyon Fun Center. Why is this place relevant? Well, there's two attractions in here that may actually qualify as dark rides: The Ricochet Canyon Scenic Railroad looks to be an Italian built kiddie train of some sort that cruises past small set scenes with animatronics on a tight loop. Salty Mine Exploration Company has individual cars and provides lights to riders to try and find "hidden items". Both attractions are geared towards a younger set, but adults seem able to ride as well. Train fans can also find occasional public days at the Canyon Meadows Park miniature train to get a fix of steam powered action.



In the greater vicinity, there ski resorts have predictably acquired Wiegland mountain coasters. Park City and Snowbird both have them, with Park City's being nearly twice as long (and one of the biggest in North America). For someone looking for bigger thrills, the Olympic Park has winter and summer bobsled experiences that are anything but "themed" - they're the real thing, just like actual bobsledders do. There's occasionally luge as well in the winter you can try out.



Salt Lake City and the related college down of Provo (home to BYU) have a few family entertainment center type destinations. Liberty Park in Salt Lake City has a small ride collection, anchored by a Eli Wheel. Seven Peaks Fun Center in Lehi is at the rough midway point between SLC and Provo, and features a mix of family rides, go karts, mini golf, and other typical FEC fare. The SLC location of Seven Peaks is a straightforward water park; probably significantly more refreshing than a visit to the Great Salt Lake. Provo Beach Resort can't be classified as a water park: it lacks enough aquatic attractions for that. It does have a Flowrider, as well as a ropes course, laser tag, and arcade. Strange mix, but it seems to be working.



When it comes to animals, Hogel Zoo is the state's sole AZA accredited facility. Like many zoos these days, it has a CP Huntington Train and a carousel with exotic animals. Exhibits are expanded and of course themed to resemble the areas the animals are from. For extinct creatures, Utah has a lot of dinosaur fossils, and thus as expected has a dinosaur attraction or two. Aside from the great natural history museums, those seeking to scratch the itch of seeing enormous reptile related things could hit up George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park. Several animatronic dinosaurs are placed outside for viewing in addition to indoor museum style exhibits and working paleontologists cleaning fossils.



One interesting phenomenon that is largely isolated to Utah is that of the Nickelcade: arcades in which people pay for entry, then pay for additional time playing games using nickels in some format. While this is not expressly limited to Utah, the density of them in Utah is far, far greater than any other. In Greater Salt Lake City alone, one can visit Nickel City, the Nickelcade of Taylorsville, or Sandy Nickelcade. My experience visiting these is that the games are typically at the end of their lifespan, not in the best of working order, and sometimes hilariously placed (e.g. Shoney's Claw Machines).



Utah's water parks aren't monsters: Cowabunga Bay emerged from the Huish family's FEC business, with Shane now heading the company. It features one enormous play structure; the largest in the world when it was built. Cherry Hill Water Park grew out of a campground, and is a mix of an outdoor FEC and aquatics center with some water slides. Classic Fun Center has 4 locations throughout the state, with 2 of them (Sandy and Riverdale), but neither is particularly huge either.