Pennsylvania's Picnic Groves and Trolley Parks (PAGE 4 OF 8)
by Phil Gould
: Added February 2013

Nestling on the shores of Lake Erie this park started life as a picnic area called Hoffmans Grove In 1896 a local trolley company leased the land in the hope of increasing weekend passenger trade. They renamed the place Waldameer which is German for wood by the sea. Today the park has two classic dark rides, a family coaster which has received many accolades and a modern wooden coaster that literally flies across the adjacent highway.

Driving along Peninsular Drive on Presque Island there are no signs of the delights hidden in the wooded area at the cliff top until I spot a large wooden arch stretching across the highway. This does not support a road or footbridge but the track of the roller coaster Ravine Flyer II.

Waldameer is the fourth oldest operating park in Pennsylvania and the 10th oldest in the USA. Turning into the car park I see that the large water park is busy as it is yet another perfect summer's day on my tour. Through the woods I can see some picnic sheds and a chairlift rising up over the park's midway. One of the first attractions I walk past is the Carousel. Although this might look old it is a pretty recent arrival as the original Carousel was sold in 1988 to raise money for new attractions. It raised $1 million dollars at auction and the current Chance Merry Go Round was one of the rides bought with this money.

Just beyond this and pretty well hidden among the trees is The Comet. Designed by Herbert Schmeck this Philadelphia Toboggan Company built roller coaster only reaches a height of 45ft. Dating back to 1951 this figure eight coaster has been delighting visitors ever since. The loading station is constructed at one end of the figure eight so is curved. Unfortunately during my visit repairs were being carried out so I didn't get the chance to ride it.

Walking out onto the midway there are many of the park's games and Kiddieland that does include an old Allan Herschell Pony & Trap roundabout. I also spotted the main reason for my visit to Waldameer. Constructed at right angles to each are the park's dark ride the Whacky Shack and a walkthrough fun house Pirate's Cove. The former was built in 1970 and the latter arrived two years later. Both are now considered to be classics by enthusiasts. Both of these rides were designed by Bill Tracy. Only eight attractions of his design still remain in operation today. So to have two in one park is a bonus. The Whacky Shack replaced an earlier Pretzel dark ride. It is a multi-level dark ride that takes around two minutes to complete. There is an external dip similar to those found on Supercar designed Ghost Trains from the 70s. The hallways on the ride decrease in size as you travel round the route adding to a feeling of claustrophobia. Favourite stunts along the course include the giant rat and the skull. Such was the popularity of this ride that the park asked Tracy to design them a walkthrough fun house which opened for business in 1972. Pirate's Cove contains three stunts that can be found on all of the fun houses designed by Tracy. These are the water flowing upwards stunt, barrel maze and tilted room. The attraction was pretty busy when I visited so I had to go back for a second time to try and spot some of the things I had missed. Both of these attractions were great fun and it is impressive that Waldameer has maintained both of them to such a high standard.            

While many of the park's older attractions have been removed it is perhaps worth mentioning that they still operate a Spider, Scrambler Twist and the ubiquitous Lifting Paratrooper. Ravine Flyer II has that name as the original Ravine Flyer was demolished in 1938. So the park went without a coaster until the arrival of The Comet 13 years later. While the Ravine Flyer II certainly looks impressive I have to say the experience was spoilt for me as the ride felt so rough. I was rather surprised to discover that it was only opened in 2008 and was voted best new ride by Amusement Today magazine. So something must have happened to it in just four years. Shortly after my return it was announced that the park had acquired more land and was going to embark on an ambitious 10 year plan. This would include an expansion of the water park, a motel and an incline railway taking guests to the shoreline of Lake Erie. Whatever is done I'm sure it will be in keeping and help Waldameer maintain its traditional atmosphere which has made it so endearing to visitors for 116 years.            


The first sign that drivers are approaching Waldameer is the roller coaster track crossing the highway. Picture: Phil Gould

Bill Tracy's Whacky Shack dark ride. Picture: Phil Gould

The second classic dark attraction, the Pirate's Cove walk through fun house. Picture: Phil Gould


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