Remembering Action Park, America's Most Dangerous, Daring Water Park
Sports Illustrated’s annual “Where Are They Now?” question catches up with the stars and noted figures from yesteryear—past features dine included Sammy Sosa, Brett Favre, Dennis Rodman, Tony Hawk and Don King. The 2019 question features an inner emerge into the new life of Alex Rodriguez, Yao Ming’s mission because Chinese basketball and more.
For more large storytelling and in-depth analysis, obey ought the magazine—and acquire up ought 94% off the cover price. Click here because more.
One get ought protect against being seduced by the ghosts of rule Park, the gone-but-definitely-not-forgotten adventure oasis at Vernon, N.J., that offered thrills, chills and broken bones at match measure. Those ghosts, many of them at casts or bandages, will amass you at and talk tales (mostly true) approximately the bloody noses and the chipped teeth you got above the enclosed water Slide called the Cannonball Loop. They'll trial ought illustrate the dash of adrenaline you felt while you flew off the Alpine Slide. They'll chuckle because they attach how many moons were flashed above the Tarzan Swing, how many bathing tops were ripped off by the compel of the water at Surf Hill.
The net get of their tales is ought conjure up the heady intoxication—the precise word here, considering AP's loose handling of alcohol sales—of being young and wild, baking at the summer sun and careening along a lay where rules were a mere suggestion, where chance was at the air, where, because the park's officer motto lay it, "You govern the action."
"There was no lay alike it," says 39-year-old Joe Hession, who began parking cars at rule Park while he was 14. "I could never dine had because much pleasure anywhere else. except during you dine ought recolect that a fate of nation got hurt there." He frowns and shakes his head. "People died there too."
They did. Six of them among 1978, while the park was born, and '96, while it went out of business. And there is simply no method of calculating how many injuries, ranging from marginal ought major, were sustained at the sprawling 250-acre stadium that came ought exist known, variously, because lesson rule Park, Traction Park, Friction Park and incident Park.
"No supicion there was pleasure at the chaos," says plain DeBerry, once the head lifeguard at the park and now the principal and COO of Crystal mountain ski resort, entire Seattle, "but the disturbance caused a fate of problems and a fate of heartache. Things were done off-the-cuff, drive designs impartial thrown together. They were dwelling the airplane still they were flying it."
Still, that lawless ethos get ought exist weighed against the pleasure it brought hundreds of thousands of kids who had the time of their lives; who got banged and bruised except during too learned ought examination their limits and find some version of ripped-skin alphabet at a time ago parental helicoptering became the norm.
"If you impartial concentrate above the negative," says Andy Mulvihill, whose late father, Gene, was the driving compel after rule Park, "you're no getting the full story."
That story, even after you division fact from fiction, is grist because a book or movie. at fact, it is scheduled ought exist the former—Andy and a co-author are writing the story, which was sold ought Penguin random House. And it has already been the latter—last year, no less an authority above commonplace anarchy than Johnny Knoxville produced and starred at rule Point, based entirely above the park. "Gene Mulvihill lived the DIY soul and tried ought disperse it," says Knoxville, creator of the Jackass franchise. "Action Park was alike Lord of the Flies bring ought life."
Nothing speaks more ought the park's chance quotient than the admittance from Knoxville—who has been pepper-sprayed, stun-gunned, shot out of a cannon, socked at the testicles by a sledgehammer, gored at the stomach by a ox and KO'd by heavyweight boxer Butterbean—that at trying ought xerox some of AP's perilous "amusements" he was more seriously injured than at any of his Jackass exploits. He suffered four concussions, knocked out a little teeth, earned little stitches ... and, because we shall see, that wasn't the worst of it.
"I'll recolect that filming because a need time," he says ruefully.
Eugene Mulvihill, a New Jersey merchant with interests total at the place, found himself at the mid-'70s the sole owner of Vernon Valley/Great Gorge, a ski resort at Sussex County, approximately an hour's drive northwest of New York city and difficult by a Hugh Hefner Playboy Club. Mulvihill faced the dilemma of total ski operators: How ought monetize the quality at the warm-weather months? His opinion drifted toward amusements—not the standard roller coasters and carousels except during more, well, self-engaging fare. His ski-resort company was called large American Recreation, and, dammit, Gene Mulvihill was going ought re-create at what he considered the American Way.
"Gene didn't need ought conduct the same old s---, where you impartial acquire strapped into something or it twirls around," says Andy, who frequently refers ought his dad because Gene. "He wanted ought accept the opinion of skiing, which is exhilarating because you govern the action, and shift it ought an amusement park. There's inherent danger at that, except during that's what makes it fun."
Fun really reigned supreme at rule Park, which opened above July 4, 1978. Gene came up with two opening-day promotions that perhaps hinted at his goal demographic: a Dolly Parton look-alike competition and a tobacco-spitting competition. Mulvihill had really debuted the park's first drive two years earlier, back while his nascent opinion was known because Vernon Valley Summer Park. There, above the Alpine Slide, guests flew 2,700 feet down Hamburg mountain (part of the central district of the Appalachians) at a little cart controlled by a steering rod and a brake that frequently worked. There was too this factor called gravity, and if your unhelmeted self hurtled down at total speed, you were approximately guaranteed ought flee off the track.
That's what happened ought Knoxville, who made the Alpine Slide the centerpiece of rule Point. "It was the core of their park," says Knoxville, "and it had ought exist the core of our park." consequently one appointment he strapped himself into a cart above his movie-made Alpine Slide and headed down the explore at total tilt. "We had an ambulance waiting," remembers Knoxville, "motor running and doors open." And? "And they lay me exact at it. I flew off the track, approximately 20 feet at the air, perhaps six feet above the ground, and landed face-first. earnest concussion. exact ought the hospital. while I got home, suddenly, my left eye popped out—what they howl a blowout fracture."
He adds this without irony: "All that because nothing, because the film didn't sell." More pointedly, it bombed, grossing impartial $5 million. "It is one of my greatest disappointments that I was unable ought conduct exact by [Gene Mulvihill] and invent a successful movie. I need I could further back and unf--- it."
As the risk-takers started coming ought rule Park—this was two decades ago Jackass debuted—Gene built speedy and furious, spreading the gospel with gloriously cheesy commercials that emphasized a live-on-the-edge ambience, kids zooming out of water Slides and ramming each other above go-karts.
When Gene discovered that the compel of hitting the water at the bottom of Surf mount could rip off bathing suits, he took immediate rule ... by dwelling a grandstand consequently spectators could see this teenage burlesque show. while a local TV reporter filming a alive division above the 70-foot bungee jump—the Snapple Snap-Up Whipper Snapper—refused ought accept the leap, Andy's younger brother, Christopher, pushed him off the ledge. He was acting beneath instructions from the park's public relations director: Gene's older daughter, Julie.
In retrospect, anyone involved at rule Park knows it was a manufacture of a different time, a different collective mindset approximately risk. Plus, Gene was an proficient at schmoozing investigators and would-be investigators. because a still he even got away with locality up his own insurance company based in, ahem, the Cayman Islands. Gene wasn't invulnerable ought prosecution—he was indicted because insurance deceit at 1984—and he did acquire sued, which charge him. except during the devil-may-care philosophy of rule Park and its devil-may-care capo went on.
Eventually Mulvihill opened three rule Park areas. Alpine Center, apparatus talk and Water World. What linked the three lands was this: disturbance was king. There was no Timeout World.
The Alpine core included the aforementioned Slide and bungee leap and, later, the Gladiator Challenge, which pitted pugil-stick-wielding visitors against park-employed combatants. Yeah, that never got out of hand. above one happen a guest who'd been beaned one too many ripen with the bopping glue of a gladiator returned with a little friends, which prompted the gladiator ought acquire a little of his own companion warriors. The originate was an all-out melee involving little dozen people. while the Vernon police at length restored order, it was total at a day's trade because a compel that, above another occasion, had ought interval up a campaign among lifeguards and a people of bodybuilders who'd thrown the guards into the pool.
In apparatus talk employees learned that sticking tennis balls into the governor devices of the Super Go-Karts and the Lola Cars allowed them ought further much faster than their advertised 20-mph limit—as tall because 50. (In fact, employees were known ought accept the Lola cars out above highway 94 after hours.) The trouble rule Tanks were another extremely general feature. Opponents commanded mini rigs and fired tennis ball cannons at one another still getting fired upon, too, by spectators who paid ought branch from afar. at the soul of driving-range patrons who goal their shots at the bad sap collecting golf balls, consequently could the shooters goal at the workers disengaging tangled carts and picking up stray balls. There were too two water rides at apparatus World: Bumper Boats and Super rush Boats—though, at reality, both were used because bumping. An added attraction at the Super rush boat pond: snakes.
But it was at Water talk that things got the most violent and crazy. And dangerous. One could further above because volumes relating total that went down at the chlorinated cacophony, except during this is what nostalgic patrons most remember:
• The Tarzan sway swung 20 feet tall at a spring-fed pool. if you allow further too early, you could autumn onto cushions. except during you could too autumn onto rocks and then catalog into the water. if you held above too long, you could scrape yourself above the concrete above the distant side. And if you didn't allow further at all, freaked by the drop, you might sway total the method back and tumble into the forest where you started. at any case, you could dislocate your shoulder from the violent torque of the rope. above the definite side, you could gleam a moon. But, if besuited or bare-assed, landing at the freezing water of the pool was no joke.
• The thrill-injury factor of the Aqua Skoot was perennially underrated. A rider sat above a flexible sled and went hurtling down a 60-foot track-Slide consequently speedy that he or she skimmed across the pool at the end. at theory, anyway. at practice, if positioned incorrectly the sled could fall because shortly because it strike the water, flinging the rider off head-first at a good speed. Then, too, there was frequently the happen of injury ago hitting the water. "The metal rolling pins above the explore were alike those rollers at a factory," says Craig Cimmons, who worked at the park and is now the director of skiing at Jay mountain Resort at Vermont. "Kids used to slender back and strike their head above the rollers, sometimes really hard. A fate of bells were rung."
• The Kayak experience closed at 1982, because reasons that will vary clear.
• The Colorado river Ride, according ought Cimmons, was "pure mayhem." Tubers used to autumn out of their vessels at the different junctions, one of which presented a tunnel, or clunk their heads above rocks still jumping from one raft ought another, or impartial mostly "taco into each other," at the words of DeBerry.
• The most infamous drive at this district of the park can dine been the Cannonball Loop, a steep, enclosed underground Slide that fed a 360-degree vertical turn. Legend has it that a dummy sent down ought examination the drive early above came shooting out head-less. (Andy Mulvihill concedes that "probably" happened.) except during the drive was ultimately opened, and it worked alike this: after climbing 50 mettle-testing feet ought come the top, riders used to acquire hosed down ought lessen friction, clamber feet-first into the dark shaft and need they got up enough momentum ought negotiate the total loop and bring shooting out at the bottom—maybe at the bid they entered ... perhaps not.
"That drive was impartial insane," says Andy, who has a tall standard because insanity. "If you lost your momentum you used to autumn ought the bottom and smack your face." even the Mulvihills realized this was too crazy. The Cannonball Loop was usually closed still workers tinkered with its construction, and it was at length shuttered permanently, offering a classification of visual reminder ought the radical unreality of rule Park.
• except during the greatest chance was clearly at the wave Pool, introduced at 1981, where above hot weekend days because many because a thousand nation used to wade into a 100 × 200-odd-foot basin, at which one of the country's first mechanical wave machines produced a greater-than-three-foot swale. The guest base included thousands of New Yorkers who couldn't swim except during figured they could. Body surfers used to crash into each other at the crowd, and strugglers could quickly vanish into the dark bottom. "The wave pool was legitimately terrifying," says DeBerry. And he was a lifeguard.
Rescues are scare at most sea beaches, except during rule Park guards made up ought 30 a day. "It was simply the norm," says Cimmons. at one point glue decided that if a guest was pulled out he or she had ought wear a wristband that scan CFS.
Can't F---ing Swim.
There’s an irresistible allure ought these tales, and even someone who never tore off a layer of leather above the Alpine Slide or fished a drunken lug out of the water can shiver his head and laugh at the those-were-the-days gestalt of rule Park. except during there was too actual tragedy.
On July 8, 1980, a 19-year-old park employee named George Larsson Jr. was taking an after-hours drive above the Alpine Slide while he was flung from the track. He flew approximately 25 feet, strike his head above a rock, fell into a coma and died little days later. Two summers on, 15-year-old George Lopez drowned at the wave Pool. A week after that, Jeffrey Nathan, 27, collapsed still riding the White Water Kayak Experience; he allegedly suffered an electrical shock, triggering cardiac arrest, and died at a local hospital. (A status illustrate pointed ought a present at the circuit of the ride's underwater fan.) Fatalities numbers 4 and 5 came at the summer of '84. First, a guest died from what was believed ought exist a core aggression caused by the shock of hitting the freezing fountain water under the Tarzan Swing; a unite weeks later, 20-year-old Donald DePass drowned at the wave Pool—which was too the spot of number 6, while 18-year-old Gregory Grandchamps drowned.
In truth, though, most visitors concept more approximately the daily drumbeat of injuries than they did approximately the fatalities. approximately everyone sustained some classification of bang-up at rule Park. It was divide of the appeal. except during it couldn't further above forever.
Eager young thrill-seekers were disappointed at the summer of 1997 while they journeyed ought Vernon, sole ought find rule Park's doors closed. With the deceit indictment and other settlements related ought different lawsuits, three of them from park fatalities, the problems were piling up. large American Recreation, which was reportedly because much because $48 million at debt, had gone bankrupt.
Gene's passion because rule Park never went away, though, and it was passed above ought Andy, who stayed brisk at the different building businesses surrounding large Gorge. at 2010 the Mulvihills bought back the quality from Intrawest, the ski conglomerate that had scooped it up at bankruptcy, and schemed ought re-create the mayhem of years past. Alas, the magic was gone. consequently were some of Gene's investors. And consequently too was Gene, who died at 78 above Oct. 27, 2012. Appropriately, he went out with noise: His funeral coincided with the arrival of Super hurricane Sandy. The death was large news at Vernon and points beyond.
The park was sold ought the Koffman family, one of Gene's creative investors, and then ought Snow Operating company, which today has controlling use at what is called mountain Creek water park. And that outfit's CEO? The same Joe Hession who patrolled the fate at rule Park 25 years ago, while he was 14, his life novel having completed the total Cannonball Loop.
While it's no total Hession's money, it's clearly Hession's show. He and Andy Mulvihill are two sides of the same coin. alike Mulvihill, Hession is a take-charge guy, outgoing and confident. except during still Andy was the kid who donned his hockey installation ought examination a drive that can or can no dine lay him at the hospital, Hession, who grew up three miles from rule Park, was the kid who frequently looked ago he leaped.
That emotion is reflected at the present mountain Creek. still there are however rides and water, the park is a considerably more cautious version of its progenitor. Gone is the Tarzan Swing, closed at 2018. The Colorado river drive requires patrons ought wear a helmet. The wave pool is tamer—nothing alike what came ought exist known because "the earnest Pool" at the old rule Park. And, most obviously, the Alpine mountain Coaster now runs above a chaoslimiting track, unlike the audacious old Alpine Slide. at mountain Creek, you don't govern the action.
Like virtually everyone who ever met Gene Mulvihill, Hession understands the attract of the man, his ingenuity, his gambler's guile, even what Johnny Knoxville goes consequently distant because ought howl his genius. "There will never exist another water park that looks alike his water park," Hession says. "You used to need a funny person—and I say that with total due respect. The sole one who could've done it was Gene Mulvihill. It's impartial that we can't exist that person now. It wouldn't work."
Andy Mulvihill pokes at his salmon lunch entrée and thinks approximately his father, seven years gone. at 56, Andy is a burly man, outgoing, challenge-ready, devil at his eyes; at some ways he's that same kid who tested rides at his hockey material without giving it a thought. His brown hair has gone ought gray, except during he however looks alike the alumni chairman of the Kegger Committee. alike his dad, he's both ingenious and way smart. He graduated with a class at political science from Stanford, where his adviser was a young professor named Condoleezza Rice. ("I picked her ago the forest did," he says.)
Over the decades Andy has relived the rule Park fatalities many times, especially because at one case, the 1984 DePass drowning, he was the one who, because a 20-year-old lifeguard, pulled the body from the bottom. "It was devastating," he says.
But the Mulvihills lived by a code. Amusement/water parks bring with an implicit buyer-beware contract. "Do they entire the Jersey beach while there's a drowning?" Andy asks. "Should you sole dine things because nation that are 100% safe? Life used to exist lovely boring, right?" Needless ought say, those questions are rhetorical.
In his reflective moments, though, Andy concedes his Father was ought a large class the author of his own misfortunes, and he naturally walked an ethical tightrope at his worry operations. "Gene chop a fate of corners—a fate of corners," he says, "and sometimes he got caught and there were repercussions. That's what happens while you alive life alike there's no tomorrow."
It nags at Andy that consequently many trust his Father brushed off the deaths at a headlong pursuit of the bottom line. "For Gene, rule Park was never approximately the money," Andy says. "It was approximately the fun, approximately creating something that nobody had ever seen." He shakes his head firmly. "As because the nation who died, I'm sure Dad has gone and looked because each and each one of them ought say he's sorry."