Coaster group hopes to save Geauga Lake's Big Dipper

SANDUSKY Coaster enthusiasts hope Cedar Fair officials will preserve Geauga Lake's historic ride, th
Janet
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Coaster enthusiasts hope Cedar Fair officials will preserve Geauga Lake's historic ride, the Big Dipper, while embracing a mixed-use development that would include retail stores and restaurants.

Richard Munch, historian for the American Coaster Enthusiasts group, said the organization is searching for a local developer interested in keeping the nostalgic wooden coaster and building a mixed-use project around it.

But Cedar Fair officials already have Big Dipper and two other roller coasters listedfor sale.

"Many of our rides are going to several of our other parks," said Lee Alexakos, Cedar Fair's corporate vice president of marketing and advertising. "Right now we're in the process of disassembling the rides."

Munch said he believes Cedar Fair officials want to sell the property, and historical preservation is not a part of their master plan.

"This all came about pretty quickly," he said. "I think Cedar Fair wants to get out of thebusiness."

Alexakos said Colliers International, acommercial real estate organization, isbrokering the remaining property, and Cedar Fair will make the final decision on the sale. The sale of the rides is being handled by the Martin & Vleminckx Rides, LLC.

"Anybody is welcome to bid on the entire piece of the property or specific areas," she said.

The Big Dipper is one of 13 coasters left of its kind in the world, said Munch, who referred to the coaster's design as a "John Miller" coaster.

Miller was a prolific inventor in the early 1900s who had more than 100 patents and designed many safety devices still used in today's roller coasters.

According to britannica.com, Miller's most important contribution to coaster technology was his 1919 patent of underfriction wheels that keep coaster cars locked on their tracks, enabling the cars to reach high speeds, bank suddenly and turn upside down.

The coaster had two previous identities before it became known as The Big Dipper. It first opened as the Sky Rocket in 1925 and transformed to the Clipper in the late 1940s. In 1969 the name changed to the Big Dipper.

Munch is also a board member for the National Roller Coaster Museum and Archives, which was founded in 1992. If the organization can work with a developer in preserving the ride and the land around it, Munch said the group would be interested in turning Geauga Lake into the museum's base. The organization has two warehouses filled with remnants of rides of the past. About 50 coaster cars from 35 different coasters are behind locked doors waiting for a permanent home.

Munch said he has heard from "inside people" that bulldozers are slated to clear out the rest of the park sometime next week.

"These are people who are concerned about keeping the park," said Munch, who declined to reveal his sources. "We know it's the plan, but we don't want it to happen right away."

Alexakos said it is not true.

"There's no plans to bulldoze a section of the park at this time," she said.

Munch plans to attend the annual IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) Expo in Orlando, Fla., where many other coaster enthusiasts and amusement park officials will be this week. The expo will showcase new rides, products and services from the amusement industry's leading manufacturers and suppliers. Representatives from Martin & Vleminckx Rides, LLC will also be at the expo, according to its Web site.

Munch said saving a part of the park's history could be successful.

Kemah Boardwalk, located in the bay area of Houston, Texas, and the historic Belmont Park in San Diego, Calif., are examples of mixed-use developments that have rides and attractions.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Munch. "It keeps the park going in a different way ... it keeps the roller coaster going."

In September, Cedar Fair announced it was shutting down the amusement park side of Geauga Lake because of low ticket sales. The company plans to concentrate exclusively on waterpark operations next year. The waterpark will open May 24 for the 2008 season.