West Virginia’s only amusement park
The sign of the happy clown greets visitors as they pull into the parking lot of the 106-year-old Camden Park, and the happiness grows once inside the gate. Paul Ruben visits West Virginia’s only amusement park, currently in a period of renewal.
Located in Huntington, along the Ohio River at the point where Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia meet, Camden Park traces its roots back to 1903. Back then almost every town in American had streetcars and many had parks at the end of the lines to boost weekend traffic. Camden Park was developed as a picnic area by the Camden Interstate Railway, and has been a source of fun to countless generations ever since, surviving into the 21st Century as a thriving traditional amusement park.
Today Camden Park boasts more than 26 rides on its 20-plus acres, plus a lake with paddleboats, restaurant, food and games concessions, an exhibition centre and an 18-hole miniature golf course. The signature attraction is the Big Dipper, a wooden coaster that turned 50 in 2008.
Camden Park in fact has two wooden rollercoasters. The Big Dipper, 45ft tall, was erected in 1958 by National Amusement Device Company (NAD). The companion Lil’ Dipper, also from NAD, appeared in 1961. The 1907 carousel, by Hershell-Spillman, contains 36 wooden horses and two chariots, and is the only original ride left at the park. A ride through the Haunted House, an old Pretzel dark ride, is taken at breakneck speed with an attendant at the end to slow the car to a stop! You have to look fast or you will miss the gags. The park also includes the most intense Mangels’ Whip still in existence. These four rides, plus the adjacent Adena Indian burial mound, add to the uniqueness of the park.
Other rides include the West Virginia Logging Co (log flume), Zamperla Kite Flyer, Larson Flying Scooter, Frontier Train ride, Dodgems, Paratrooper and nine kids’ rides. “Our most popular rides are our Frontier Train and the Carousel,” says park manager John Boylin. “Both appeal to all ages.”
The most recent additions have included the aforementioned Flying Scooter (in 2006) and, in 2008, a miniature golf course from Castle Golf, called the West Virginia Adventure Golf Course. Boylin says they decided to go with an Appalachian/pioneer village theme to give a nod to West Virginia’s heritage. The course includes a number of animatronic figures including a feuding Hatfield and McCoy shootout and a man catching a fish out of a pond, while his dog snacks on a fresh-caught fish and his wife hangs out the washing!
“Our plans in the near future,” Boylin reveals, “involve drawing together visually all the improvements we have made in the past few years as well as improving the infrastructure of our game and concession offerings.”
Although the family looks to add a new attraction every year, Boylin says it’s been nice the past few years taking to time to reflect on the park’s heritage: “It seems like we’re celebrating something every year now with the 100th anniversary and then the Carousel centennial. It’s nice to connect with all the people who have been creating memories here for all these years.”