Books

Action Park

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Action Park was the Somalia of theme parks, a New Jersey thunderdome for people who preferred risk to rules. It was founded in the mid-1970s by Gene Mulvihill, an eccentric businessman who dreamed of a participatory place that offered more than just the illusion of danger.

"My father seized upon the idea that we were all tired of being coddled, of society dictating our behaviors and lecturing us on our vices," Gene's son and onetime employee Andy Mulvihill writes in Action Park, an extremely entertaining memoir co-authored by the journalist Jake Rossen. So the park erected attractions that ceded high levels of control to the patrons. "Guests riding down an asbestos chute on a plastic cart," for example, "could choose whether to adopt a leisurely pace or tear down at thirty miles per hour and risk hitting a sharp turn that would eject them into the woods."

Those riders just might be drunk too. Action Park sold a lot of beer, eventually building its own brewery.

The park survived into the '90s. Mulvihill's book covers virtually everything you'd want to know about it, including the inevitable legal and regulatory battles. Injuries were common, but somehow they became part of the draw. "The risk did not keep people away," the proprietor's son concludes. "The risk is what drew them to us."

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  1. Grew up on Long Island, NY. Used to love going to Action Park (later I learned its nickname “Traction Park”). Apparently the injuries on the Alpine Slide (that asbestos chute/plastic cart combo) were so common, friction burns being the most frequent one, that there were EMTs pretty much assigned to the bottom of the track. It was just easier to keep them there on standby rather than have them sent out for every call.

    I remember one time there, when I was maybe 10 or so, we were at the “Cliff diving” part of the water park, and me looking at the 25′ jump and saying “Oh, that doesn’t look so bad, I’ll do it” to my friend who said he wouldn’t (mind you, I am petrified of heights). When it came to my turn to jump, I realised just how high 25′ seems when you are actually up there. But I had had to open my big mouth. Oh well, I jumped, but let me tell you, 25′ of free fall seems like an awfully long time when you are an acrophobe.

    1. Whitefish Mountain Resort in N.W. Montana has an alpine slide where you can get friction burns hot enough to melt your nylon shirt or shorts. Fortunately, I just lost some skin, but another guy there had nylon melted to flesh. No first aid offered. Kids as young as 10 can ride, or toddlers if they ride with a parent.

      Good fun.

  2. Dang, why am I just now hearing about this place? Sounds great! But I did find a great story about it.

    1. “why am I just now hearing about this place”

      Because you’re a poorly informed idiot who tells the world with his screen name that he shits his pants.

    2. At first glance this comment looks like spam, but actually led to a really good article detailing each of the rides in Traction Park. Comments included in the article are just hilarious. Gold, Jerry’s kids, gold.

  3. No one is allowed to have fun in a world full of Karens and the perpetually entitled.

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