Saving the Big Dipper

A towering wooden coaster with the legacy of being among the oldest in the world may soon be sold. The Big Dipper, on
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

A towering wooden coaster with the legacy of being among the oldest in the world may soon be sold.

The Big Dipper, one of the first major attractions at the defunct Geauga Lake amusement park, isscheduled to head to the auction block next month.

Although the coaster was not initially listed in the published brochure of offerings, theauctioneer company confirmed earlier this week that Cedar Fair still plans to sell the coaster at theJune 17 auction.

"They're just looking for a good home for it," Norton Auctioneers vice president Denise Kinsey said. "If somebody came forward that wanted to give it a good home, they could sell it before the auction."

The Michigan-based company, which specializes in the auction and appraisal of amusement parks, rides and tourist attractions, also lists the Villain and Raging Wolf wooden coasters, as well as a pirate ship and other Geauga Lake memorabilia.

Though it was rumored that an 8,000-member enthusiasts' organization was trying to raise funds to purchase the Big Dipper, American CoasterEnthusiasts president Mark Cole said that effort no longer seems practical.

"We don't see any real way we could do it as a club," Cole said. "Obviously, we'd love to have it preserved and run where it's at, but I just don't think that would be possible. So if there's some way it could be moved and preserved somewhere, that would be wonderful."

Charles Bingham, president of Martin & Vlemincks, the company finalizing the sale, said it is difficult to estimate the coaster's worth because it is so unique, and no starting price would be listed.

"Used wood coasters are not a common commodity, so this is an unusual set of circumstances," he said. "It becomes a question of how much you really want to pay to move it, re-erect it, and put in all new tracking versus buying a new one and getting exactly what you want."

Cedar Fair spokeswoman Stacey Frole said the company has been working with Norton Auctioneers to evaluate the assets left over after Geauga Lake closed last September because of sluggish ticket sales. But as a publicy-traded partnership, Cedar Fair has the final say in the Big Dipper's sale and must consider its unitholders first and foremost.

"We're looking at what opportunities present themselves," Frole said. "We have an obligation to our unit holders to make sure we get the best value."

Jeff Putz, co-editor of Cedar Point's Pointbuzz Web site, said although he sees a great deal of public interest in preserving the ride, he believes the economic reality of the situation will take precedence.

"Obviously the Dipper has a lot of historic value, but in terms of a good ride, the Villain is the one I'd love to see restored somewhere," he said.

David Mitchell, who grew up near the park in Aurora, recalls the significance of Geauga Lake to his family and said he hopes some aspects of it can be preserved. Though he does not consider himself a coaster enthusiast, he has written letters to newspapers and elected officials to increase awareness of the issue.

"That place meant a lot to four generations of my family," he said. "My grandmother went there when she was young, and I was able to take my daughters there last summer."

Mitchell said if the 1925 coaster could be preserved on its original site, it would enhance the Geauga Lake area and might attract more people to the nearby waterpark. But that possibility seems remote at this point, he said.

"It doesn't seem like they're wanting or even considering keeping it on site," he said. "The fact that the coaster was not listed, it's hard to believe that was just an oversight on the auctioneer's part."