Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....North Carolina

North Carolina is a state seeing double digit population growth as families move from the Midwest and Northeast seeking fairer weather and better economic opportunity. Home to the research triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) and the city of Charlotte, the state is booming. So the amusement scene must be too, right?

Well, kinda. Cedar Fair obtained tax credits here when they didn't in Virginia, and shifted a ton of development to Carowinds. This included its new 300+ foot tall B&M Giga coaster, Fury 325, and a winter event. Unfortunately, pretty much every family entertainment center with a coaster has closed. Most small parks in the state have also been shuttering their gates as residential and commercial real estate swallows them whole. It isn't so much a "boom" as an increase in density.

Tweetsie Railroad is among the most significant of the lesser known attractions. It is, as advertised, primarily based around a scenic railroad. However, there's a mix of vintage and newer rides throughout the park's 3 sections. Most intriguingly is a dark ride/train hybrid known as the Mouse Mine Train which intends to take you deep into a cheese mine. There's an old car ride here with no center rail (impossibly rare), Eli Wheel, Round-Up, and more.

North Carolina likes its theme parks on the verge of nonexistence with themes that would fall into the first half of the 20th century. Land Of Oz kinda sorta exists for a few days of the year and I guess you can get a tour of it sometimes if you pay enough. It is the best preserved theme park in the world dedicated to the classic Judy Garland film and book by that guy who's name no one remembers because he really didn't do anything else; there's another one that's a total train wreck of abandonment and you can enjoy that on Youtube. Wild West themes survive at Deadwood in Williamston, a small amusement park that's attached to a BBQ restaurant. It doesn't survive so well at Ghost Town In The Sky, which has flashed in and out of operation for much of the last 20 years and can currently be yours for a few million more than its worth. The owner's name is Alaska, she's one million years old, and she tried to tear the whole thing down after buying it and build a giant cross because she's clearly of strong mind. Santa's Land in Cherokee is a good side stop from Pigeon Forge during the summer time and is your typical classic storybook/Santa park from the 1960s kept alive in the modern day. It's cute and full of rides built to survive a nuclear holocaust (minus the Zamperla Dragon) with lots of spares available, so hopefully it doesn't go anywhere.

North Carolina does have some water parks, and it's here that the only recent development in the state has taken place. Jungle Rapids and H2OBX are newer facilities that have funnels, trap doors, half pipes, and all the other things good modern water parks have. This is in addition to the state's biggest such water park, Wet N' Wild Emerald Pointe, which has shown flashes of innovation before like having a rapid lazy river, themed slides, and at one point a Setpoint junior suspended coaster. These are all traditional facilities though, and if you're here, you know that I revel in the non-traditional. Green Springs Waterworld is as nontraditional as it gets: built in 1965, it consists of a number of wooden platforms which you may swing or dive off of. 4 people have died there since it opened; there's real risks if you do really stupid things. But there's also real benefits to having somewhere that you can do 40 foot back flips still in existence or used a rope swing suspended from over 20 feet in the air. When the owner is gone, probably so will it be.

Traditional water parks as we know them really got cookin' in the south, and one of these early water parks is still around for you to enjoy with opening day concrete slides intact. Those who carefully read my piece on Water Parks in 2016 might recall the name of Water Boggin, a chain of water parks built by Dwight Myers starting in Myrtle Beach and expanded throughout the south using Richard Croul's water slide invention. The original in Myrtle Beach is long gone, but his Emerald Isle location is still going strong under the name Salty Pirate Water Park.

Salty Pirate is one of a few attractions worth noting along the barrier islands of North Carolina - there's several family entertainment centers featuring mini golf, go karts, and batting cages, but there are standouts. Carolina Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park is the only real amusement park in the region, though calling it an amusement park might be a stretch. It appears to consist of primarily portable rides camped out in a small location for the summer months, then trucked out. There does seem to be a coaster present though, and I've contacted their Facebook page for more info. There's even been a Skywheel some years, which, hey, who doesn't love a Skywheel? You should really love a Skywheel. Also, a special shout out to Patio Playground in Top Sail Beach, who still have a classic 1950s era course to play (AKA the best kind).

NCA's census shows a number of wood carousels throughout the state, but the one at White Lake Family Fun Park is most compelling to me simply because it is a largely uncharted small amusement center. Pictures exist from 2017 showing bumper cars and a scrambler. There's videos on Youtube, but none in years to confirm if there's still a Music Express or Eli Wheel to go with them. No website. No Facebook.

As we come to the conclusion of the North Carolina leg of the Hidden Rides search, we'll highlight two small family facilities with very different origins serving the same community. Pullen Park opened way back in 1887, and is the 4th oldest amusement park in the United States. The park has never operated a full size wood coaster or great dark ride, but has been home to a fine Dentzel carousel for about a century, and visitors today can find a Chance CP Huntington train, paddle boats, and some kiddie rides to go along with it. It's a fine example of a community owned facility. Frankie's of Raleigh is more along the lines of a mega-FEC that I imagine will find its way to RCDB sometime soon. All the extreme miniature flat rides you could ever want bolster its go kart and arcade fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment