by Paul Ruben
Four parks in four days; that’s park hopping. Recently I drove to New England to visit Quassy, Lake Compounce, Six Flags New England and The Great Escape (which borders New England). I enjoyed four distinct adventures that confirmed the health of the amusement industry in North America.
First stop was The Great Escape in Lake George, New York, home of the Comet rollercoaster. I’ve ridden the Comet every year it has operated since it opened in 1948, not that I’m compulsive. The park was packed with happy families enjoying the day.
Six Flags New England, Agawam, Massachusetts, was the second stop. I had been concerned about the health of ‘Flags parks since president and CEO Mark Shapiro had declared his parks would become more family-friendly, thereby abandoning, in my mind at least, their legions of thrill seekers. Was I wrong! The thrills remain but with new rides and entertainment targeting families with small children. The park’s attendance had not faltered but actually climbed, up 16 per cent. You can read about ‘Flags rebound elsewhere in this issue. Best of all, I took my first ride on Pandemonium, the park’s Gerstlauer spinning coaster. It was my 739th different coaster ridden, not that I’m obsessive.
It will be Quassy Amusement Park’s 100th anniversary in 2008. I hadn’t visited this Middlebury, Connecticut, park in 20 years, and wanted to get some photos to support a centennial article I plan to write. Quassy is the youngest of only 11 trolley parks still operating in America. Quassy got a new lease on life in 2003 when it introduced a water play area adjacent to its beach. Since expanded, it saved the park as attendance is again on the upswing.
Lake Compounce, Bristol, Connecticut, was my final stop on the tour, where I had this photo taken on the midway. I hadn’t visited in about five years, and was amazed by the park’s expansion, including a waterpark and several new higher capacity rides. General manager Jerry Brick told me that since Kennywood took over operation of Lake Compounce in 1997, attendance has nearly tripled from 250,000 to more than 700,000 this year!
Lake Compounce’s surge in attendance echoes the attendance increase over the same period from 477,000 to 1,035,000 at Holiday World, Santa Claus, Indiana, and at Magic Springs & Crystal Falls, Hot Springs, Arkansas. Magic Springs was dormant through 1999, but has set an attendance record of more than 500,000 this year. Noteworthy increases to be sure, but Lake Compounce, Holiday World and Magic Springs have all have one thing in common. They all offer their guests free soft drinks, a concept originally introduced at Holiday World. Everyone loves something for nothing, even if you have to pay admission for the opportunity to receive it.
Of course, that’s why I love to visit Busch Gardens. Free beer. I’ve discovered that the more free beer I drink the smarter I get. How smart? A few years ago I read about the evils of drinking, so I gave up reading.