Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Maryland

Maryland is a state filled with contrasting imagery. Most people's exposure to the state comes via travel through the supercorridor linking DC to New York City and Boston through Baltimore where the majority of the population resides. But Maryland also features more than just vast suburbs and dirt bike riding impoverished minorities. To the west, the state juts into Appalachia, making contact with coal country and with a voting bloc as red as red can possibly be. East of Chesapeake Bay is the area surrounding Salisbury, including the major beach resort of Ocean City and the Assateague Island National Lakeshore. Maryland is a deeply complex place which has birthed complex media.

There are two exceedingly well known amusement attractions in the state. The first, Six Flags America, is generally considered the bottom of the barrel for the chain and a dumping ground for used attractions from elsewhere. Opened in 1974 and now on its fourth identity, the park resides in what is now a predominantly African-American county in a predominantly African-American town. One can easily speculate as to whether or not this is a contributing factor to the attitude that the park is bad. Having gone and having dealt with some of the lousy customer service from their not predominantly black management, an alternative interpretation might be that being in that area the chain has decided to simply not put in effort and that it reflects in both ride acquisitions and middle/lower management. In any case, the park is home to distinctly interesting rides such as an Intamin hyper coaster, a Premier launched coaster, and the first B&M ever constructed (Apocalypse, formerly Six Flags Great America's Iron Wolf). Shows here often do well in TEA/IAAPA voting for the lowest of budget productions thanks to an above average talent base in the area.

The other non-unknown is Ocean City, Maryland and its selection of attractions. There's a consistent top of the chart dark ride here, some of the best mini golf anywhere in the world, and a wild selection of huge arcades and rides. I've been twice and always find myself wishing I had more time there. You're also a reasonable drive away from Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, and can take one of the many boat rides over to Assateague Island, home to a colony of wild horses that roam in clear sight.  Also along the water in a most impossible-to-miss place is The Capital Wheel, a Chance Ferris Wheel with fully enclosed cars for all year use.

What would be a non-unknown is Glen Echo...had it survived. The venerable amusement park closed in 1968, a fact that is often ascribed to the after effects of racial integration. Several buildings and the entryway still remain and are maintained by the National Park Service. Among these is its 1921 Dentzel Carousel, which still operates for guests at the price of a paltry .75. Watkins and Wheaton Regional Parks also operate wooden carousels, and the Inner Harbor is home to the Charm City Carousel. Montgomery County, who operate the Wheaton carousel, also run a pair of miniature trains at the same facility along a 12 minute loop. None of these are high priced options and they all seek to serve every member of the community. 

The Baltimore Metro area is home to something that doesn't typically fall in the categories I've listed, but for the sake of being completist, it seems like I should note it. Crab Towne USA has an outrageously good sign, but inside its home to the region's best classic arcade. Tons of 80s and 90s cabinets along with pinball can be found. Along with games, there's a restaurant and full bar, so you don't even need to leave until the doors close.

With regards to the fair and carnival scene in Maryland, there are some rural county fairs, but nothing permanent at the fairgrounds that might be considered exceptional. With this being the east coast, most of the biggest events (including the State Fair) are done by Deggeller, a multi-generation show family with plenty of big steel.

Adventure Park USA in Monrovia has something akin to a Western theme for its above average-sized family entertainment center. Their Schwarzcopf Wildcat is on its 5th location, having opened at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 1976. The other substantive steel coaster, a SDC Windstorm, moved north in 2015 from its prior location at Old Town in Kissimmee.

Western Maryland is a very different world than the DC/Baltimore area, resembling the coal towns of Central Pennsylvania or West Virginia rather than urban expanses. Wisp Resort expanded their summer offerings in 2007 with one of the first mountain coasters ever seen in North America, giving the region its first proper amusement ride. For the style, it's a really effective and fast mountain coaster too.

For historians, Rock Hall, MD is home to the Tolchester Revisited Museum...or at least it might be. Information is scarce about hours or availability, but there is probably a building full of archival material about this traditional ferry park that closed in 1962. A facebook page regularly posts pictures, but that may be all there actually is. The Spruce Forest Artisan Village in Grantsville crosses the lines of both open air museum and shopping experience, utilizing extremely old period buildings as the placeholder for various people to sell arts, crafts, and other goods. 

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