|Slogan||The Action is Back!|
|Location||Vernon, New Jersey, U.S.|
|Previous names||Mountain Creek Waterpark (1998-2013)|
|Operating season||June to September|
Action Park was an amusement park located in Vernon, New Jersey, on the grounds of the Mountain Creek ski resort. The park consists primarily of water based attractions and originally opened to the public in 1978 under the ownership of Great American Recreation, who also owned the ski resort which at the time operated under the name Vernon Valley/Great Gorge.
The original Action Park was open until 1996 and featured three separate attraction areas: The Alpine Center, featuring an alpine slide, Motorworld, and Waterworld. Waterworld was one of the first modern American water parks. Many of its attractions were unique, attracting thrill-seekers from across the New York City metro area. The park's popularity went hand-in-hand with a reputation for poorly designed, unsafe rides; under-aged, undertrained, and often under-the-influence staff; intoxicated, unprepared visitors; and a consequently poor safety record. At least six people are known to have died as a result of mishaps on rides at the original park. It was given nicknames such as "Traction Park", "Accident Park", and "Class Action Park" by doctors at nearby hospitals due to the number of severely injured park-goers they treated. Little action was taken by state regulators despite a history of repeat violations. In its later years, personal-injury lawsuits led to the closure of more and more rides and eventually the entire park.
On February 9, 1998, Intrawest announced the purchase of the Action Park property along with the majority of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area (but not all of it, as some of the Great Gorge property was not included in the deal and became Crystal Springs Resort) and developable real estate lands GAR previously owned. After a massive overhaul, which included revamping rides and removing attractions deemed either outright unsafe or inappropriate relative to Intrawest's vision of the park, the waterpark was reopened as Mountain Creek Waterpark and operated under that name until 2013. With an increased emphasis on ride safety, the alpine slide and Motorworld areas were eliminated and some new water attractions were added.
In 2010, the whole Mountain Creek ski area and waterpark was sold to a group led by Eugene Mulvihill, the former owner of Great American Recreation and the owner of the adjacent Crystal Springs Resort. It was under the new ownership that the name of the water park was changed back to Action Park, with the park assuming that name when it opened for the 2014 season. In 2016, the Mountain Creek Park name was restored to the park, thus retiring the Action Park name again.
- 1 History
- 2 Alpine attractions
- 3 Motorworld
- 4 Waterworld
- 5 Factors contributing to the park's safety record
- 6 Fatalities
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Future development
- 9 Spinoff locations
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Original Action Park (1978–1996)
The park was born in 1978 when Great American Recreation (GAR), new owners of the recently combined Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area, wanted to do something with the ski area during the off season. Two years earlier, in 1976, they had followed the trend of many other ski areas at the time, and opened a 2,700-foot (820 m)-long alpine slide down very steep ski trails. Gradually, Waterworld and Motorworld came together at the base of the mountain to form one of North America's earliest modern water parks, which was originally called the Vernon Valley Summer Park.
They started out with two waterslides, and a LOLA race car track in the summer of 1978, and then more waterslides and a small deep-water swimming pool the next year, as well as tennis courts and a softball field. Finally, Motorworld was carved out of the swampy areas the ski area owned across Route 94. Ultimately, the small park consisting of the Alpine Slide and two water slides evolved to a major destination with 75 rides (35 motorized self-controlled rides and 40 waterslides).
By the 1990s, the park was being advertised as the world's largest water park. Additionally, during the 1990s, up through the park's final season, and into 1997, Action Park maintained a web site at the domain actionpark.com, on which visitors could find information about rides, directions to the park, and lodging, and even enter a lottery for a chance to win park tickets.
Action Park's most successful years were the mid-1980s. Most rides were still open, and the park's later reputation for danger had not yet developed. In 1982, the deaths of two visitors within a week of each other and ensuing permanent closure of one ride took place, but that hardly dampened the flow of crowds.
The park's fortunes began to turn with two deaths in summer 1984 and the legal and financial problems that stemmed from the lawsuits. A state investigation of improprieties in the leasing of state land to the park led to a 110-count grand jury indictment against the nine related companies that ran it and their executives for operating an unauthorized insurance company. Many took pretrial intervention to avoid prosecution; head Eugene Mulvihill pleaded guilty that November to five insurance fraud-related charges. Still, attendance remained high and the park remained profitable, at least on paper. The park entertained over a million visitors a year, with as many as 12,000 coming on some of the busiest weekends.
Park officials said this made the injury and death rate statistically insignificant. Nevertheless, the director of the emergency room at a nearby hospital said they treated from five to ten victims of park accidents on some of the busiest days, and the park eventually bought the township of Vernon extra ambulances to keep up with the volume.
In September 1989, Great American Recreation negotiated a deal with International Broadcasting Corporation that would result in the sale of Vernon Valley-Great Gorge, and Action Park, for $50 million. IBC, however, backed out of the deal, feeling the site was not suitable for their needs upon further inspections of the properties.
In September 1991, Great American Recreation attempted to petition the Vernon Township Committee to put a referendum on the November ballot that, if passed, would have legalized the operation of games of skill and chance at Action Park. On September 23, the petition was rejected by the committee because only 643 of the 937 signatures on the petition came from registered voters. 
A few rides were closed and dismantled due to costly settlements and rising insurance premiums in the 1990s, and at last the park's attendance began to suffer as the recession early in that decade reduced visitation. In early 1995, GAR operated Vernon Valley-Great Gorge with no liability insurance. New Jersey did not require liability insurance, and GAR found it more economical to go to court than purchase liability insurance since they relied on their own self-insurance. GAR purchased liability insurance from Evanston Insurance Co in May of that year to cover Action Park, as well as Vernon Valley-Great Gorge's skiing facilities.
As 1995 progressed, GAR's financial woes continued to accumulate. First Fidelity Bank, who lent $19 million to GAR, and some 15 other connected corporations, filed suit against them in an effort to begin the process of foreclosing on the debt owed to them. Law firms owed money for services rendered between 1991 and 1993 also began filing suit. As November rolled around, GAR negotiated a deal with Noramco Capital Corp, and the Praedium Fund of CS First Boston, in which they would purchase the debt owed to First Fidelity, temporarily fending off an impending foreclosure.
In February 1996, the creditors who had taken on GAR's debt petitioned to force GAR into bankruptcy over the $14 million owed by the struggling company. GAR filed for Chapter 11 protection that following March, but remained optimistic that they could regain their financial footing "within a year."
Action Park closed at the end of the season as usual on Labor Day, September 2, 1996. Going into 1997, GAR remained optimistic that Action Park would open as expected on June 14, in spite of massive layoffs that occurred at the end of the ski season. The opening date was pushed back to June 28, then mid July. On June 25, 1997, GAR announced the cessation of all its operations, including Action Park.
Mountain Creek era (1998–2013)
Following the demise of GAR in 1997, Praedium Recovery Fund purchased the Vernon Valley-Great Gorge resort, and Action Park, for $10 million. The investment group put the company Angel Projects in charge of managing the resort, and aimed to pump in some $20 million to upgrade the ski resort's equipment, trails, and to remodel the water park.
Canadian park operator Intrawest purchased the park, and neighboring Vernon Valley ski area in February 1998. The Waterworld section of Action Park was revamped, and then reopened for the 1998 season as Mountain Creek. The owners, aware of the image problems created during the Action Park era, sought to differentiate themselves from their predecessors. By this time, Mountain Creek was no longer the state's largest waterpark, nor was it the draw that it was during its original heyday, as other waterparks built around the region have since divided the market. Since Intrawest was a ski resort corporation, the water park would be leased out to Palace Entertainment after the first couple of years.
As a result of problems at the original Action Park, New Jersey toughened its amusement regulations. During the Mountain Creek era, many of the rides built during the heyday of Action Park boasted large bilingual signs advising patrons of just what the ride entails, how deep the water is in metric and US customary units, the age it is most appropriate for, and the state regulatory ID numbers. Safety rules are strictly enforced at the new park, although alcohol is still available.
In 2010, Intrawest, which ended up in bankruptcy proceedings itself as a result of a leveraged buyout, sold both the Mountain Creek ski resort and the water park to the owners of Crystal Springs Resort. The water park would remain under lease to Palace Entertainment until 2011, when the owners of the resort bought out the operating lease to the water park. This returned control of the former Action Park property, as well as the entire former Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area, to the Mulvihill family as they had retained ownership of the ski area that was renamed Crystal Springs following GAR's bankruptcy.
Aborted attempt as Action Park again (2014–2015)
In April 2014, the Mulvihill family changed the name of Mountain Creek back to Action Park. The domains "actionparknj.com" and "actionpark.com" were purchased by Mountain Creek. Initially, the actionparknj.com URL was used to forward visitors to "waterpark.mountaincreek.com", but now forwards people to actionpark.com, where the water park's website now resides. The park's former web address, waterpark.mountaincreek.com, also forwards visitors to actionpark.com. In 2016, Action Park was renamed back to Mountain Creek Waterpark due to it not "connecting with those under age 34", as Bill Benneyan, president of Mountain Creek Resort stated. In an article discussing the Kaufman brothers' plans for the resort, it was also mentioned that they have a desire to steer away from the Action Park branding, past reputation, and make the park (as well as the resort) more family focused.
Action Park Gladiator Challenge
This attraction, which was loosely based on the TV series American Gladiators, opened in 1992. It allowed patrons to compete against other patrons in an obstacle course, and against so-called "Action Park Gladiators" in jousting matches. Former bodybuilders Michael and Vince Mancuso designed and ran the attraction. The "Action Park Gladiators" that patrons had to compete against in the jousting matches were picked by scouting local gyms. Over the course of the day, there were 3 shows. One at 1:00 PM, the second at 4:00PM, and the last at 6:00 PM, where the people with the fastest obstacle course times of the day were brought back to compete against each other. This attraction had been removed from the park by 1995 and replaced with a beach volleyball court.
Action Park's alpine slide descended the mountain roughly below one of the ski area's chairlifts, resulting in much verbal harassment and sometimes spitting from passengers going up for their turn, who would often be entertained by the accidents they witnessed while at the same time hoping to avoid similar fates.
The tracks were made of concrete and fiberglass, which led to numerous serious abrasions on riders who took even mild spills. The tendency of some to ride in bathing suits so they could go on to Waterworld attractions afterward made this problem worse.
The sleds were a large factor in the injuries. A stick that was supposed to control speed led, in practice, to just two options on the infrequently maintained vehicles: extremely slow, and a speed described by one former employee as "death awaits".
This slide led to the first fatality at the park, a head injury suffered in 1980 by an employee whose sled ran off the track; he then fell down a large embankment and hit his head on a rock, which killed him. Hay bales at the curves were meant to cushion the impact of those whose sleds jumped the track (a frequent occurrence), but did not always do so effectively. According to state records, in 1984 and 1985 the alpine slide produced 14 fractures and 26 head injuries. While park officials regularly asserted its safety, saying that 90-year-old grandmothers could and did ride it, in the early years of the park the slide was responsible for the bulk of the accidents, injuries, lawsuits, and state citations for safety violations.
When Intrawest took over the park and renamed it Mountain Creek in spring 1998, they announced the slide would remain open for one final season. Riders were required to wear helmets and kneepads. The last day of the slide's operation was September 6 of that year, the day before the park closed for the season, as that year's Labor Day was rainy and the slide had to be closed.
The tracks were torn out afterwards, but the route can still be seen from the gondola that replaced the chairlift. The bike park route travels down the site, and crosses over many wooden footbridges that crossed over the Alpine Slide tracks. Mountain Creek recently introduced an alpine coaster, which combines elements of the Alpine slide and a roller coaster.
Snapple Snap-Up Whipper Snapper Ride
In 1991, Action Park opened up a 70-foot-tall (21 m), two-station bungee jumping tower near the alpine slide off which patrons could jump for a fee. The next summer, the tower was upgraded to four jumping stations. The guests could not go very far, however, and were tethered to a weight that prevented them from bouncing back up to the top of the tower. This attraction closed with the original Action Park in 1996.
A skateboard park briefly existed, near the ski area's ski school building, but closed due to poor design after a season. Bowls were separated by pavement, which in many cases did not meet the edges smoothly. Former park employee Tom Fergus was quoted in the magazine Weird NJ saying that the "skate park was responsible for so many injuries we covered it up with dirt and pretended it never existed".
The Transmobile was a monorail that would take riders from the base lodge, across Rt. 94 to the Cobblestone Village complex & Old Mill Mini Golf course, then to the Fest Haus Tents in Motorworld. Riders would ride sideways in cars built for 2 people. Each stop had 2 stations, one for riders heading towards the Alpine Center, and one for people heading to the Motorworld part of the park. Rides to / from the Alpine Center were one way, and riders were not allowed to stay on the ride, and travel round-trip without getting off at either end. This restriction sometimes caused conflicts between park staff, and riders who either did not understand - or did not want to follow the rules.
When Intrawest took over the park in 1998, and began overhauling the water park, the Transmobile was dismantled. For many years afterwards, pieces of the Transmobile remained. By the former Fest Haus Tent, and by the Green Tree Mini Golf course up to Rt. 94, pieces of track and structural supports remained in place for many years, with some remains lasting into late 2010. The Cobblestone Village station remains in place as well. The right of way through which the Transmobile traveled past the Mini Golf course, and under part of the Cobblestone Village complex, remains unobstructed to this day.
The park also had a section called Motorworld. It had powered vehicles and boats on the west side of Route 94. These closed with Action Park in 1996. They have been replaced with a condominium housing development, a restaurant, and additional parking for the Mountain Creek ski resort. Several types of vehicles were used in this area.
- Super Go Karts: The karts were meant to be driven around a small loop track at a speed of about 20 mph (32 km/h) set by the governor devices on them. However, park employees knew how to circumvent the governors by wedging tennis balls into them, and they were known to do so for parkgoers. As a result, an otherwise standard small-engine car ride became a chance to play bumper cars at 50 mph (80 km/h), and many injuries resulted from head-on collisions. Also, the engines were poorly maintained, and some riders were overcome by gasoline fumes as they drove.
- LOLA cars: These were miniature open-cockpit race cars on a longer track. Extra money was charged to drive them, and they, too, could be adjusted for speed by knowledgeable park employees, with similarly harmful consequences to riders. Fergus said that, after the park management briefly set up a microbrewery nearby, employees looking for after-hours fun would break into it, steal the beer, and then ride the cars on Route 94.
- Battle Action Tanks: This was one of the most popular rides at Motorworld, and it was featured prominently in the television ads. In a chainlink fence-enclosed area, small tanks could be driven around, for a fee, for five minutes at a time, with tennis ball cannons that enabled riders to shoot at a sensor prominently mounted on each tank. If hit, the tank stopped operating for 15 seconds, while other tankers often took advantage of the delay to pepper the stricken vehicle with more fire. Visitors on the outside could also join in the fun through less costly cannons mounted on the inside of the fence. When workers had to enter the cage to attend to a stuck or crashed tank, which usually happened several times a day, they were often pelted with tennis balls from every direction despite prohibitions against such behavior that could result in expulsion from the park. This gave the tank ride a reputation for being more dangerous for the employees than the patrons, making it the least popular place to work in the park. It is not known if there were any serious injuries from the tank ride. As of 2012, the area has not been redeveloped and only a vacant lot remains.
- Super Speedboats: These were set up in a small pond, known by staff to be heavily infested with snakes. They were supposed to be driven around a small island in the middle at 35-40 mph (56–64 km/h). While, unlike the land vehicles, there was no way to tamper with them and increase their speed, many riders nonetheless used them to play bumper boats, and one seriously inebriated rider had to be rescued by the attendant lifeguard after his boat capsized following a collision.
- Bumper boats: This ride was supposedly safer, but the engines often leaked gasoline, at least once requiring medical attention for one rider who got too much on his skin. Tall riders also often were unable to fit their legs on the small-sized boats, consequently resulting in them hanging off of the sides of the boats and being fractured during collisions.
- Space Shot: The "space shot" attraction was fairly safe. It was a tower drop up and down ride, common in many amusement parks today. This attraction was open in 1996 and again in 1998 (under Mountain Creek management). In July, 1998, the ride was purchased by the Montreal-based company Laronde, dismantled, and shipped to an amusement park in Quebec.
- Sling Shot: A bungee cord ride in which two riders sat in a seat and were strapped in while the ride was shot up in the air and supported by a bungee cord. Riders looped upside down. There are a few similar rides still standing in a handful of major amusement parks, the most common name being the Slingshot found at many Six Flags parks, but they are upcharge attractions (an additional charge to admission) due to insurance issues. At Action Park, the extra fee was only $5. This particular ride was open from 1993 to 1995. "We often wondered how many whiplash cases came out of that ride", one former employee recalled.
Water-based attractions made up half of the park's rides and accounted for the greatest share of its casualty count. Mountain Creek Waterpark and its currently revived Action Park still operates some of these attractions. In addition, there was also a miniature golf course as well as standard pools and rides for children. These were sometimes smaller, safer versions of the park's main attractions.
In the mid-1980s GAR built an enclosed water slide, not unusual for that time; in fact, the park already had several such slides. On this one however, they decided to build a complete vertical loop at the end, similar to that of roller coasters. Employees have reported they were offered a hundred dollars to test it. Tom Fergus, who described himself as "one of the idiots" who took the offer, said "$100 did not buy enough booze to drown out that memory."
It was opened for one month in summer 1985 before it was closed at the order of the state's Advisory Board on Carnival Amusement Ride Safety, a highly unusual move at the time. One worker told a local newspaper that "there were too many bloody noses and back injuries" from riders, and it was widely rumored, and reported in Weird NJ, that some of the test dummies sent down before it opened had been dismembered and decapitated. A rider also reportedly got stuck at the top of the loop due to insufficient water pressure, and a hatch had to be built at the bottom of the slope to allow for future extractions.
The ride supposedly reopened a few more times over the years. In the summers of 1995 and 1996 it opened for several days before a few more injuries forced another shutdown.
Those who rode it have said that more safety measures were taken than was otherwise common at the park. Riders were weighed and hosed down with cold water, required to remove jewelry, and then carefully instructed in how they had to position their bodies to complete the ride. For the remainder of the park's existence, it remained visible near the entrance of Waterworld. It was dismantled shortly after the park closed.
In 2014, video footage was unearthed and published online that appears to show riders going down the Cannonball Loop.
Other notable water attractions
- The Tidal Wave Pool: The first patron death occurred here in 1982; another visitor drowned in this common water-park attraction five years later. It was, however, the number of people the lifeguards saved from a similar fate that made this the only Waterworld attraction to gain its own nickname, "The Grave Pool". It was 100 feet (30 m) wide by 250 feet (76 m) long and could hold 500 to 1,000 people. Waves were generated for 20 minutes at a time with 10-minute intervals between them, and could reach as much as 40 inches (102 cm) in height. It was not always obvious that pool depth increased as one got closer to the far end, and there were patrons who only remembered or realized that they could not swim when they were in over their heads and the waves were going full blast. Even those who could swim well did not realize that the waves, as fresh water, were not as buoyant as their ocean counterparts, and they sometimes exhausted themselves doing more swimming than they were ready for, causing patrons to crowd the side ladders as the waves began, leading to many accidents. Twelve lifeguards were on duty at all times, and on high-traffic weekends they were known to rescue as many as 30 people, compared to the one or two the average lifeguard might make in a typical season at a pool or lake. Mountain Creek continues to operate this attraction as the "High Tide Wavepool" but made the pool much shallower.
- Aqua Skoot: Invented by Ken Bailey in the early 1980s, riders would carry a hard, solid plastic sled up to the top of the ride, go down a slide consisting of rollers akin to those found in factories, warehouses, or assembly lines, and end up in a pool that in most areas was no deeper than a puddle. The idea of the ride was to, once the sled hit the water, skip across the water like a stone. In order to do this the rider had to be in a certain position, leaned back. If the rider was not in this position, the sled would sink into the water as soon as it hit the pool, flinging the rider off head-first, which often resulted in head injuries. Other times, riders would be leaving the pool only to have others crash into them as they were riding. This ride consisted of parallel slides originally. At some point in the mid 1980s, a third slide was added. Each slide was 30' long. The slides were removed when Intrawest took over the resort in 1998, the pool was redesigned into the Lost Island River which is part of the children's section. The platform / tower riders climbed to ride the Aqua Skoot became the Treetop Cabanas in 2003.
- Kamikaze: This was the more "tame" water slide near the Geronimo slides. It was blue in color and featured several drops and rises. Riders would lie on their backs with their arms and legs crossed and go down a "chute" which pitched steeply at first and then went up and down several times before ending in a pool. It survived the Mountain Creek redesign, but was removed and scrapped following the 2009 season.
- The Kayak Experience: After the second visitor death in the park's history in 1982 occurred at this ride, it was closed permanently. It was an imitation whitewater course that used submerged electric fans to agitate the water above. Frequently the kayaks got stuck or tipped over, and people had to get out of them to remedy the situation.
- The Tarzan Swing: This was a steel arch hanging from a 20-foot (6.1 m)-long cable over a spring-fed pool. Patrons waited in long lines for the chance to hang from it, swing out over the water, then jump off as the beam reached its height. In early years the area patrons jumped off from was not over the water but a cushioned area. Some people who let go as soon as they started their swing would land on the cushion and then slide/crash into the water. In the mid-1980s the starting position was shifted so that patrons started over the water. Some patrons hung on too long and scraped their toes on the concrete at the far side. Others used the ride properly, but were then surprised to find out the water underneath was very cold. It was cold enough, in fact, that the lifeguards sometimes had to rescue people who were so surprised by the sudden chill that they could not swim out of the pool. In 1984, one man died from a heart attack after experiencing the swing.
- Roaring Rapids: This was a standard raft-based whitewater ride. Reports that the park filed with the state in 1984 noted fractured femurs, collar bones and noses, and dislocated knees and shoulders. This attraction is still open. The left side is known as The Gauley and riders use a single tube. The right side is known as Thunder Run and is a double tube rafting ride.
- Surf Hill: This ride, common to other water parks at the time, allowed patrons to slide down a water-slick sloped surface on mats into small puddles, until they reached a foam barrier after an upslope at the end. Barriers between lanes were minimal, and people frequently collided with each other on the way down, or at the end. The seventh lane was known as the "back breaker", due to its special kicker two-thirds of the way down intended to allow jumps and splashdowns into a larger puddle. Employees at the park used to like eating at a nearby snack bar with a good view of the attraction, since it was almost guaranteed that they could see some serious injuries, lost bikini tops, or both. Mountain Creek kept this attraction open through 2005, then reopened it in 2012.
- Super Speed Water Slides: These two water slides, also known as Geronimo Falls, were set slightly apart from the rest of the park and took advantage of nearly vertical slopes to allow riders to attain higher speeds than usually possible. One started with riders going almost vertically downwards and was covered with screening for the first several feet. As barriers on the side of the slides were very low, lifeguards reminded every user to remain flat on their back with their arms at their side as they descended, since there was no way to ride it otherwise and stay on. The fall from both slides had the potential for very serious injury. Those who made it to the bottom found their progress arrested by water—which made a large splash—and then a small pool. Only one of these slides remains today, however the track was replaced with one that was not as steep. The tracks the old slides followed are still visible. Today it is known as the H-2-Oh-No. Vertigo and Vortex still use the same end splash pool that 2 of the other old speed slides used.
- Diving cliffs: The area around Roaring Rapids was (and still is) laid out like a kind of grotto, with many lower-intensity attractions. One was a pair of diving cliffs—one 23 feet (7 m), the other 18 feet (5.4 m)—above a 16-foot (5 m) deep pool. However, the pool below was not blocked off from those who might be swimming in or away from other attractions, and nothing at water level gave any indication to swimmers below that they could expect people to dive in right next to them - or right on top of them. The sole lifeguard on duty often had his or her hands full dealing with the results of those collisions. Also, nonswimmers would jump off the cliffs, not fully appreciating how deep the water below was, and have to be rescued. Former employee Tom Fergus says the bottom of the pool was eventually painted white to make it easier to spot any bodies on the bottom. The large pool into which people jumped is no longer used for regular swimming, only to deposit used tubes. Still operating, known as Canyon Cliffs.
- Colorado River Ride: The Colorado River Ride, which still exists, is a 4-person raft ride that winds its way down a heavily wooded area on the side of the park, with numerous forks allowing riders to take different routes. Unlike in other parks, the river trough was crafted to look like a natural river bed, with jets in the bed at various points adding to the rapid roughness. Riders carried their rafts from the bottom of the ride up to the starting point. Once on the ride, riders would travel down a short incline, propelling them down the ride. As they make it past the first turn, it was common to gain speed. After a few turns, the riders would come to a fork.
- The Main Fork: Riders would ride under a drenching waterfall into a dark tunnel with many twists, turns, and jagged rocks. Upon exiting the tunnel, riders would twist and turn some more until they reached a small rock pool, and slowly floated out. The final stretch of the river consisted of a large downhill portion complete with bumps, and a foot-high (30 cm) jump where the rafts would momentarily catch air and then slam back onto the surface.
- The Alternate Forks: Riders would float along a relatively smooth path until they rounded a corner with a waterfall, and another fork. One path would take riders back to the main path, and dump them at the tunnel's end. The other fork would reconnect with the main path before the rock pool. Originally, a fork carried riders down a set of steep drops, before a curved drop into the main path right at the end. In the late 1980s, this path was merged into the main pathway, creating the rock pool, and final hill, that are still in use today. Today, the first fork is closed off, but the points where the forks reconnect to the main path are still connected to the ride.
- Originally, riders rode this attraction 2 at a time, in yellow inflatable dinghies. This was later replaced with large circular 4-person rafts. In the Mountain Creek era, a lift was put in place that carried rafts to the beginning of the ride, eliminating the need for riders to carry them all the way up the hill. Because the ride trough was designed to look and feel like actual river bed, the ride was rough. It was not uncommon for people to hit heads with the other riders, or for the rafts to climb the walls after hitting them at high speed, so now they wear football helmets. A rider recounted to Weird NJ how a friend's mother suffered a broken nose when their raft was thrown into a rock wall. On the curve before the first fork, it was common for rafts to get stuck – requiring riders to have to jump out, and push the raft – or wait for the raft behind them to hit them. Inside the tunnel were jagged rocks, which could cause cuts or scrapes if riders placed their hands out.
The Aerodium is a skydiving simulator wind tunnel invented in Germany in 1984. In 1987, Action Park built and opened their own Aerodium in the Waterworld section of the park, becoming the first American amusement park to open an Aerodium. The attraction was operated by Aerodium Inc, who would act as a concessionaire for the park through 1997. Stadium seating encircled the perimeter of the Aerodium, allowing friends and spectators to watch riders fly. Riders wearing a special skydiving suit, helmet, and earplugs would join the bodyflight instructor one by one on a trampoline-like netting directly over the fan. The instructor would grab each rider's wrists and guide the rider to fall forward, allowing the fan to lift the rider skyward. After a few seconds of flight, the attendant operating the fan would cut the power, causing the rider to fall onto the air cushions surrounding the fan. Park guests' flights were limited to a maximum of 6 or 7 feet (2 m) above the ground, approximately a foot or two over the instructor's head. The Aerodium also caused severe injuries, for example, when a rider instinctively tried to break his fall by extending his arm, which caused shoulder dislocation, severed nerves, and near-permanent paralysis of the arm.
Factors contributing to the park's safety record
A range of factors contributed to accidents at the park, from the design and construction of the rides themselves to the makeup of both visitors and staff, and lax government oversight.
Action Park and its defenders often pointed out that it was one of the first water parks in the nation and thus pioneered ideas that were later widely copied. This meant that visitors were using rides that had not been tested through practical use for very long. Ride designers may have had insufficient training in physics or engineering. "They seemed to build rides," one attendee recalled, "not knowing how they would work, and [then let] people on them."
GAR, as its legal troubles would suggest, was accused of cutting corners to maximize its profits. For example, it was accused of building rides cheaply, sporadically maintaining many of them, and failing to renovate rides to take advantage of later safety improvements to its ideas made by other facilities. These practices may have taken place in a range of its operations, including customer safety (in the park's last year, it kept part of the ski area open despite being unable to obtain liability insurance).
The vast majority of workers at Action Park, at least the ones regularly seen by visitors, were teenagers. Jim DeSaye, a security director for the park, says he got that job at the age of 21, after having worked at the park for two years. His experience was not uncommon.
Most were under aged, under trained, often under the influence and cared little for enforcing park rules and safety requirements. Height- and weight-based restrictions were often ignored.
Since it was closer and slightly cheaper than Six Flags Great Adventure, Action Park attracted many visitors from urban enclaves of the New York metropolitan area. Many of them were often from lower-income neighborhoods where they had few, if any, opportunities to swim, much less learn how. The park greatly overestimated these abilities, and this was a factor in many accidents as well as the drownings, according to park officials. DeSaye faults management's decision to broaden the customer base by advertising in Spanish-language media as contributing to the accident rate, since few employees spoke Spanish and no written information was made available in that language.
The staff's indifference to many of the park's own rules led to a similarly lawless culture among visitors, who generally liked the high level of control they had over their experience. Accidents were usually deemed by park employees to be the fault of the riders. A state official lamented that many water-slide accidents were due to guests who, in blatant violation of an explicitly posted rule, would often discard their mats midway down the slide and wait at a turn for their friends so they could go down together.
Since many rides routed their lines so that those waiting could see every previous rider, many played to the audience with risky and bawdy behavior when it did finally come to be their turn. The Tarzan Swing in particular was known for outbursts of foul language (not always planned) and exhibitionism as people jumped off the swing in full view of the whole line behind them.
Availability of alcohol on grounds
The park also sold beer in many kiosks on the grounds, with similarly relaxed enforcement of the drinking age as with other restrictions in the park. Doctors treating the injured often reported that many of them were intoxicated.
Lax regulatory climate
Despite many citations for safety violations between 1979 and 1986, including allowing minors to operate some rides and failing to report accidents (which was unique among New Jersey's amusement parks), an investigation by the New Jersey Herald, Sussex County's main daily newspaper, later found that the park was fined only once. It was also unique in that department in that all other amusement parks were fined for first offenses—except Action Park. It asked if there was some sort of special relationship between GAR and the state.
Some of the state's regulations failed to adequately address the situation. After the 1987 drowning, it was reported that the Tidal Wave Pool was considered a pool by the state, not a ride. Under state regulations at the time, that meant that the company merely had to keep the water clean and make sure that certified lifeguards were on duty.
Six people are known to have died directly or indirectly from rides at Action Park:
- July 8, 1980: A 19-year-old park employee was riding the Alpine Slide when his car jumped the track and his head struck a rock, killing him.
- July 24, 1982: A 15-year-old boy drowned in the Tidal Wave Pool.
- August 1, 1982: A 27-year-old man from Long Island got out of his tipped kayak on the Kayak Experience to right it. While doing so, he stepped on a grate that was either in contact with, or came too close to, a section of live wiring for the underwater fans that somehow became exposed and he suffered a severe electric shock, which sent him into cardiac arrest. Several other members of his family nearby were also injured. He was taken to a hospital in nearby Warwick, New York where he died later of the shock-induced cardiac arrest. The park at first disputed that the electric current caused his death, saying there were no burns on his body, but the coroner responded that burns generally do not occur in a water-based electrocution. The ride was drained and closed for the investigation. Accounts differed as to the extent of the exposed wiring: the park said it was "just a nick", while others argued it was closer to 8 inches (20 cm). The state's Labor Department found that the fan was properly maintained and installed and cleared the park of wrongdoing; however, it also said that the current had the possibility to cause bodily harm under certain circumstances. The park claimed it had been vindicated, although it never reopened the ride, saying that people would be afraid to go on it afterwards.
- 1984 (Date Unknown): A fatal heart attack suffered by one visitor was unofficially believed to have been triggered by the shock of the cold water in the pool beneath the Tarzan Swing. The water on the ride and in that swimming area was 50-60 °F (10-16 °C) while other water areas were in the 70-80 °F (21-27 °C) range more typical of swimming pools. The Tarzan Swing and the Cannonball ride in this area were operated by spring water.
- August 27, 1984: A 20-year-old from Brooklyn drowned in the Tidal Wave Pool.
- July 19, 1987: An 18-year-old drowned in the Tidal Wave Pool.
Action Park was a cultural touchstone for many Generation X-ers who grew up in North and Central Jersey, as well as nearby locales in New York and Connecticut. A popular list of "You Know You're from New Jersey When ..." that circulates in email begins with, "You've been seriously injured at Action Park."
Some even credit the park for making them learn some difficult lessons. In 2000, one, Matthew Callan, recalled Action Park thus:
Action Park made adults of a generation of Tri-State Area kids who strolled through its blood-stained gates, by teaching us the truth about life: it is not safe, you will get hurt a lot, and you'll ride all the way home burnt beyond belief.
Action Park was a true rite of passage for any New Jerseyan of my generation. When I get to talking about it with other Jerseyans, we share stories as if we are veterans who served in combat together. I suspect that many of us may have come closest to death on some of those rides up in Vernon Valley. I consider it a true shame that future generations will never know the terror of proving their grit at New Jersey's most dangerous amusement park.
Action Park was the topic of episode 1 of the Relay FM podcast Ungeniused in June 2016, which explores the legacy of the park, how unsafe it was, and why people continued to visit it.
An effort has begun to bring back "all of the thrills, and none of the spills" to the park. In the summer of 2014, the 100 feet (30 m) high Zero-G opened. Located on the tower for H2 OhNo, the Zero-G is a double-looping slide featuring 2 inclined loops.
For 2015 and beyond, plans for the park include a new lounge area, and pools near the former Kamikaze attraction, relocation of batting cages from their present location to near the Action Putts Miniature Golf Course, and the construction of a go-kart track by the same miniature golf course, on the site of the old festival tents. The go-kart track, however, will only be around for 1–2 years, as a proposed indoor water park hotel is currently planned for that same site.
Currently in development by Vancouver-based Sky Turtle Technologies is a ride called the Sky Caliber. In summer 2016, the Sky Caliber, opened at the Action Park site. Unlike the original Cannonball Loop, riders will ride in bullet-shaped aluminum cages. The ride also features a considerably taller and steeper approach, as well as a teardrop shaped loop. Current indications are that the slide will be called "Cannonball Loop." The ride features a vertical drop, a teardrop-shaped loop, and a coffin-shaped cage riders will ride in. It also has an emergency hatch, like the original Cannonball Loop.
The world's longest water slide, a 2,130-foot (650 m) inflatable slide made in Waimauku, New Zealand, back in 2013, was installed at Action Park. Testing was scheduled to begin in early July 2015, with no opening date announced.
Pocono Action Park and Motorworld
On April 14, 1980, Pocono Action Park Inc. was formed by Great American Recreation, which later opened Pocono Action Park and Motorworld. Located in the town of Tannersville, Pennsylvania, it had a Waterworld section with slides and tube rides, as well as a Motorworld section featuring many of the same racing themed attractions—including LOLA race cars and go-karts—as the Vernon park. By late 1991, the park was closed. The rides were torn down in stages, and The Crossings Premium Outlets was built over the location. Even after the park closed, however, Pocono Action Park Inc. continues to exist, and is listed as an active business.
In June 1984, Stony Point Recreation, a subsidiary of GAR, opened Action Mountain in Pine Hill, NJ. The park offered an alpine slide, go-karts, LOLA race cars, bumper boats, speed slides, tube slides, swimming pools, as well as a diving platform. By 1986, Stony Point Recreation had accumulated some $398,697 in back taxes owed to the town of Pine Hill, and in an effort to relieve the debt sold off the park. In 1999, the site was redeveloped into the Pine Hill Golf Course.
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- http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Intrawest+Adds+Ninth+Resort+to+Network-a020216861 - Press release announcing Intrawest's purchase of Vernon Valley - Great Gorge's ski resort, Action Park, and GAR owned real estate
- https://web.archive.org/web/19980425131249/http://www.actionpark.com/3-98.html - Internet archive copy of a press release on Mountain Creek's website announcing the waterpark's planned opening on June 15, 1998
- Perone, Joseph (May 27, 2010). "Mountain Creek resort in N.J. sold to developer Gene Mulvihill". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ: Advance Publications. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
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- https://archive.org/stream/towntopicsprince3328unse/towntopicsprince3328unse_djvu.txt - Town Topics (Princeton, N.J), Sep. 13, 1978
- Action Park commercial from 1994 (Youtube link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoqAmcgovZw
- MTV's Headbanger's Ball with Alice in Chains at Action Park, Vernon, NJ, July 1993 (Youtube link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpdCGfaxl7w
- https://web.archive.org/web/19961227075424/http://www.actionpark.com/ - Internet Archive copy of actionpark.com from December 27th, 1996
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- "SUSSEX RESORTS SUED IN STEP TO FORECLOSURE" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - May 20, 1995
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- "Debt avalanche threatens to bury ski resort Court petition seeks involuntary bankruptcy of Great American Recreation in Sussex" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - February 22, 1996
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- "Great Gorge issues host of pink slips" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - April 19, 1997
- Back in the Day - June 25, 1997: Vernon's Action Park closed for good
- "SEASON OF DISCONTENT Bankrupt Action Park remains out of action Great American exec cautiously optimistic on opening by July" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - June 11, 1997
- "For Action Park, the summer's over" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - June 28, 1997
- "Court accepts bid for ski area" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - September 12, 1997
- "New owner to reopen Vernon Valley slopes" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - October 18, 1997
- "Days of beer and bungees end as Action Park goes `family' - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - April 2, 1998
- "New name breeds hope for a new image Operators of Mountain Creek look to shed sour reputation that came with Action Park" - Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - June 19, 1998
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOqERQhWXnc - "Action PArk: The World's Raddest Water Park
- Jennings, Rob. "Vernon Waterpark Drops Nostalgic Action Park Name." New Jersey Herald. New Jersey Herald, 27 May 2016. Web. <http://www.njherald.com/article/20160527/ARTICLE/160529992#>.
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- Gethard, Chris; October 2005, "Brothers in Wounded Arms (And Legs) Serving Together at Action Park," Weird NJ, 23.
- https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1957&dat=19920726&id=9N5QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UukMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1147,6299177 - "'Action' Fitting Name For Northern New Jersey Amusement Park" - The Daily Gazette - July 26, 1992.
- Fergus, Tom; May 2006; "Another Action Park Employee Spills His Guts", in "The Reaction to Traction at Action Park"; Weird NJ, 29
- http://thecenteroftheaction.blogspot.com/2010/05/showdown-at-transmobile.html "Showdown at the Transmobile" post at The Center of the Action blog
- http://www.terraserver.com/?tid=21&cx=541410&cy=4560206&proj=32618&mpp=0.15&pic=img&prov=dg&stac=c7a8b8dc9fbe852e8fe0cbcc64fe4572 - TerraServer 2010 satellite photograph of the Cobblestone Village section of the resort, showing the shadow of a Transmobile track traveling from just past the footbridge over Rt. 94. to the station at the Cobblestone Village complex, the same piece of track seen in photos on Abandoned but Not Forgotten's Action Park page.
- http://abnf.co/NJ-action_park.htm Abandoned But Not Forgotten's Action Park page
- "CATAPULTED INTO AMUSEMENT PARK HISTORY" - The Record (New Jersey) - July 24, 1998
- See picture on this discussion thread
- Braybrook, Steve; May 2006; "A Survivor from Action Park Writes In", in "The Reaction to Traction at Action Park"; Weird NJ, 29.
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- 1991 footage of Action Park (Youtube link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xXcQdVr1Zg
- Mountain Creek Colorado River Ride footage from 2013 showing both points where the alternate pathways reconnected with the main path of the ride. (Youtube link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyiD_lk-4Fk
- 1987 footage of Action Park (Youtube link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0iJoL1Q9FY
- Shpunder, Greg; May 2006; "Action Park Designed to Hurt People" in "The Reaction to Traction at Action Park"; Weird NJ, 28.
- More Action Park footage from 1991 (Youtube link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iz2gxQGF1Wc
- http://www.aerodium.com/general_information.htm - The Aerodium Story, Aero Interactive Inc
- Callan, Matthew; Nov. 22, 2000, In Memoriam: Action Park, Freezerbox.
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- http://www.latimes.com/travel/themeparks/la-trb-action-park-looping-water-slide-20150305-story.html - "Vertical looping water slide, long thought impossible, in test phase"
- Image of a sign promoting the 2016 opening of the new Cannonball Loop.
- ACTION PARK BRINGS WORLD'S LONGEST WATERSLIDE TO U.S.
- "http://i.ebayimg.com/t/Vintage-POCONO-ACTION-PARK-and-Motor-World-1980s-2002-/00/s/MTYwMFg3MzA=/z/ldEAAOxyCSRSEBlJ/$T2eC16FHJG!FFmu4mPHgBSEBlJCovw~~60_57.JPG" Front, back, and inner pages to a Pocono Action Park tri-fold brochure
- "http://www.videoparadise-sanjose.com/1990arcades.htm" A listing of amusement park locations that had arcades as of January 1st, 1991, which lists Pocono Action Park of Tannersville, PA
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- Action Park website
- Action Park History, Recollections, News Articles and Photos from Weird NJ
- Narrative description of Action Park
- The Center of the Action, blog by former Action Park employees
- Interview with a former Action Park employee
- Action Park 80's Live Action and Cannonball loop
- "There Was Nothing in the World Like Action Park." Sometimes Interesting. 07 Feb 2014