Blood Sport: Revisiting Traction… Er, Action, Park

If you were compiling a list of things you may have experienced in you youth if you grew up in from New Jersey you might included knowing all the sites in the opening credits of The Sopranos, and that a “piney” isn’t a tree. One other touchstone that many New Jerseyans have in common is having been seriously injured at Vernon Valley’s now defunct amusement park, Action Park. So, let us now fondly reminisce and compare scars. Break out the first-aid kit and put a lawyer on retainer: we’re going in search of bodily harm in the mountains of northwestern New Jersey.

“The Action Never Stops…At Action Park…”

So went the jingle, played endlessly on TV and radio stations in the ’80s and ’90s. The commercials for Action Park marketed it as an essential summer experience for reckless youths. From its first opening in 1978 to its last official season in 1998, people came from all over to slide, swing, and drive themselves to adrenaline-induced distraction. Some also came to inadvertently experience serious injuries. The park earned its nickname, “Traction Park,” on the scraped skin and broken bones––and in rare cases even the very lives––of many of its attendees. Almost any ride, from the water slides to the dune buggies, was capable of dealing some serious pain. You could choose your poison on the hills of Waterworld, on one side of Route 94, or in the swamps of Motorworld, on the other. Here are accounts of the most notorious rides, some of which still exist at Mountain Creek Waterpark––Action Park’s totally new, extreme yet safe, family-friendly incarnation.

Losing Skin On The Alpine Slide

The Alpine Slide was called Action Park’s most popular ride in a 1986 New Jersey Herald article––one that a park official declared “the safest ride there is,” noting that a 90-year old grandmother and mothers with babies on their laps had taken a ride on it. The same article said that the slide was responsible for “more accidents, the majority of the lawsuits and 40 percent of the citations” against the park. The Alpine Slide concept was simple enough: you sat on a sled and descended down concrete tracks using a hand brake to control your speed, either slowly or at a speed described by a former park employee as “death awaits.” If you were lucky, your injury would consist of some lost skin and the sting of Mercurochrome. Lose control of your cart on the Alpine Slide, however, and it would simply crash through the haybale barriers, your body subject to the laws of gravity and nasty hillside rocks. Take the ride too slowly and you would find yourself rammed by the person behind you. At least 14 fractures and 26 head injuries caused by the slides were reported between 1984 and 1985.

The Alpine Slide was also responsible for Action Park’s first death: that of a 19-year-old park employee in 1980. According to the website rideaccidents.com, “a malfunction caused a wheeled sled to derail from its cement track after it failed to properly negotiate a curve. The victim…was thrown from the car down an embankment. He sustained a fatal head injury when his head struck a rock.” On another occasion, some kids supposedly snuck into the park one night to ride the Alpine Slide in the dark. One kid headed down first and just disappeared into the night. His friends could not find his twisted body in the dark until it was too late. If that story is true, it’s one death that didn’t make the papers.

The Alpine Slide no longer exists and the concrete tracks have been removed, but you can still see where it was located if you take a ride on Mountain Creek’s Gondola and look below.

You’ll Be Shocked on the Kayak Ride!

The Kayak Ride, which allowed people to paddle tiny boats through white water, was never very successful because it was short and the kayaks would get stuck in their own tracks. It was particularly unlucky for one 27-year-old man from Long Island during the summer of 1982. He fell or got out of his kayak, and in the process of trying to get it back, stepped near an exposed wire that was under water. He was taken to a nearby hospital in New York State, where he was pronounced dead. Two of his family members were also electrocuted, but lived.

Despite park officials’ denials, the coroner’s report proved that the man died from cardiac arrest due to electrical shock. Action Park was quick to point out that the victim didn’t have any burns, but the coroner said, “You don’t have burns when you are in the water like that…When you’re wet, you’re a dead ringer for a good electrical shock.” A wiring defect, described as either a “nick” or a seven-inch “gash,” depending on whose account of the findings you read, was later determined to be the cause of the electrocution.

The ride, drained for investigation, was never opened again, because as a park official told the New Jersey Herald at the time, “people will always be intimidated by it.”

The “Grave Pool”

The Tidal Wave Pool was a huge freshwater pool––100 by 250 feet long and eight feet deep––that could hold 500 to 1,000 people. Four large fans forced air into the pool and created waves, which could reach a height of 40 inches. The waves were generated for 20 minutes at a time, with 10-minute breaks in between. Two people drowned in the “Grave Pool”: a 15-year-old boy in 1982, and an 18-year-old man in 1987. Many more have come close, despite the fact that 12 Red Cross-certified lifeguards were stationed at the pool at all times.

One problem with the pool was that many of its users were not good swimmers. “Action Park attracts many people from urban areas who have few chances to swim and frequently must be rescued from the water,” said one park official in 1987. “They don’t know how to swim and jump right into the water.” Even good swimmers would forget that the fresh water waves were not buoyant like waves in the ocean, so they would have to work harder to stay afloat. Crowded swimming conditions meant that people would bash into each other, the sides of the pool, or the ladders as they tried to get out of the water while the waves were on. Some people would simply sink to the bottom, seemingly unaware that the pool’s depth dropped down in level as you moved from one end to the other. Think about it this way: former employees claim that lifeguards at the Tidal Wave Pool could often claim 30 “saves” a day, whereas your average lifeguard at a pool or lake might rescue one or two people in an entire summer. That’s an awful lot of responsibility to put on 12 teenagers.

Other Ways To Hurt Yourself in Waterworld

There were other water rides to be conquered in Action Park, which is good because right after the double tragedies of 1982 occurred, the Herald reported that water slides accounted for more than half the amusement industry accidents in 1981. In New Jersey, the state Department of Labor regulates amusement park ride safety. An official with the department told the New Jersey Herald that, “The biggest ride with accidents is the water slide.” Another official backed this up, saying that riders were often to blame for their own injuries: “They hang on to the sides and wait for their buddies to come down and then ride down together.” Sitting on a mat, he said, reduced the risk of injury, but “that takes the joy away from the ride.” Joy such as the “freshwater enemas” that one could get on the Super Speed Water slides. Or, Lane #7 of Surf Hill, which was known as the “back breaker.” Surf Hill was also a hotspot for park employees, who knew they could see some serious injuries or lost bikini tops as they lunched at the nearby snack bar.

Action Park’s Waterworld was also home to non-slide rides like Roaring Rapids––involving several people riding a “whitewater” raft––and the Tarzan Swing, which allowed you to swing over an icy-cold body of water and throw yourself into it. Roaring Rapids, according to accident reports filed by Action Park in 1984, caused injuries such as fractured femurs, collar bones, and noses and dislocated shoulder and knees––kind of like “Deliverance” without the banjo. The Tarzan Swing was known for scraped toe knuckles and also the shock that people would experience when their bodies were immersed in the icy cold water below. The water was so cold that people would forget how to swim once they hit it. A 1984 death at the park was unofficially attributed to the victim not being able to take the shock of the cold, resulting in a heart attack.

The Legend Of The Loop

It is a ride of legend and fantasy, a waterslide that never totally was. Its 360-degree loop loomed over park-goers as they entered Waterworld, taunting them with both its inaccessibility and improbability. It supposedly dismembered test dummies and maybe even a few park employees in trial runs. It was the Cannonball Loop slide, and it was actually open for about a month in 1985 before being closed by the Advisory Board on Carnival Amusement Ride Safety––an act the Herald called “highly unusual.”

 

Employees who tested the ride reported that if you entered it going feet first, you’d come out of it head first, and vice versa. One person got stuck in the loop, necessitating the construction of a hatch that could be opened to extract people from that part of the ride. According to one employee who spoke with the Herald, “There were too many bloody noses and back problems” that resulted from riding the Cannonball Loop. It has long since been dismantled.

Driving Danger Across Route 94

Motorworld, located across the street from Waterworld, was also capable of injurious fun. Patrons treated the Super Go-Karts like bumper cars, which caused serious head-on collisions. One employee recalls hearing the sick snap of a patron’s arm breaking as a result of a crash. While the carts didn’t go too fast due to built-in governors that controlled the speed, park employees knew how to override them with tennis balls, which would allow the carts to go up to 50 miles an hour. LOLA cars, which were miniature Indy race cars, cost additional money to ride and could also be adjusted for speed. The Tank Ride, while perhaps not the most dangerous ride for park attendees, was certainly the worst assignment for park employees––not because of the people driving the tanks, but because of the tennis-ball shooting guns that surrounded the ride. Patrons had the fun-filled opportunity to shoot tennis balls at the people in the tanks––so, should a park employee need to go down into the tank “pit” on the occasion of a crash or stuck tank, park attendees could happily fire away at them.

The Super Speedboats could go up to 35-40 miles an hour and were treated like bumper boats by park attendees. They were also set up in a swamp, in the middle of which was a small, rocky island populated by an uneasy alliance of water snakes and lifeguards. One day, two park attendees were driving their boats into each other and they crashed. One of the boats flipped over, its driver strapped in and stuck underneath the water. The lifeguard on duty had to dive into the swamp, where he reports that he was followed by all of the snakes that were keeping him company that day. He flipped the boat over and promptly ripped the wristband off the soggy driver, who may have been too drunk or high to even realize what had just happened to him, never mind the presence of many water snakes all around.

A Word About the Employees

You may have noticed a certain youthful quality to the many people on staff at Action Park. Maybe a slight resemblance to the cast of the movie Logan’s Run or the characters in Lord of the Flies. You would be right: it was hard to find an employee over the age of 30 in the park. It was truly a teen-run show, and it manifested itself in many ways, from ride attendants willfully ripping the entrance wristbands from park attendees who misbehaved to staff knowing all of the places that one could get stoned and/or drunk and hide from supervisors. Action Park got into trouble for letting underage employees run rides, too, so chances are your personal safety may have once been in the hands of a fourteen-year old tripping on acid.

That’ll Leave A Scar

If you were injured, know that you were in good company. In 1986, the Herald reported the previous year’s reported accident toll at Action Park: more than 110, including 45 head injuries and 10 fractures. And it is important to stress “reported,” because the park got into a lot of trouble with the state for not reporting accidents. Despite this, Action Park, unlike other amusement parks in the state at the time, was fined just once between 1979 and 1986 for not following procedure. The Herald said this was not the case for other amusement parks, which would be fined for first offenses. Did Action Park get special treatment?

What made Action Park different from other amusement parks was the control that patrons had over their ride experience. Part of the thrill was the danger involved. People, park officials would note over and over again, were often responsible for their own injuries, and park attendees tended to agree with them. Interviewed by the Herald about a week after the 1982 kayak ride electrocution, one person said that he had more concerns about driving on the L.I.E. to get to the park than about going on any of the rides. People continued to use the Wave Pool, too. “You know,” said a park attendee, “if somebody jumps in and can’t swim, that’s their problem.”

Park officials were always quick to point out that the park had over a million visitors each year––maybe 12,000 on a busy weekend––which makes the actual injury rate statistically small. Regardless, enough injuries occurred that Action Park eventually bought the town of Vernon new ambulances to keep up with the injury volume. In 1987, the Herald also spoke with the director of the ER at a nearby hospital, who said five to 10 people were brought there daily from the park. Injuries included “ankle sprains, cuts and contusions, and…a few broken bones,” with injuries most often occurring “from slipping at swimming pools or cuts from water slides.” He also noted that many of the injured came into the ER with alcohol on their breath––not surprising, as beer kiosks were more plentiful than ice cream stands at Action Park.

Action Park closed rides as the lawsuits stacked up and liability insurance became more and more expensive. Locals began referring to the ailing attraction as “Class Action Park.” Motorworld took the biggest hit, but rides on the Waterworld side suffered, too. It didn’t help when a bus crashed on its way to the park in 1992, killing five would-be park attendees. By the time Action Park was bought by Intrawest in 1997, it was doing badly in attendance. Intrawest morphed it into Mountain Creek Waterpark and reopened it in 2000, putting a “family fun” spin on the place by eliminating alcohol, asking patrons to cover up offensive tattoos, and building expensive condos in the swamps of Motorworld. Intrawest isn’t technically in charge of it any more: they leased it to a company called Palace Amusements that specializes in waterparks.

We asked the staff at Mountain Creek Waterpark for an official take on the incidents recounted here, but none of them worked there when it was Action Park and they declined to comment. They did send us a letter that stated that Action Park underwent some significant “cultural, operational and physical” transformations in the process of becoming the Mountain Creek Waterpark. They’ve won industry safety and customer satisfaction rewards since these transformations occurred and wanted to make it clear that this new waterpark is not the death trap you so fondly remember. In short, Mountain Creek is no longer worthy of inclusion on a list of unique-yet-painful Jersey experiences you survived and can get nostalgic about years later. You’ll have to get your scars elsewhere. —Joanne Austin

We Called It Accident Park!

Being a former employee of the company that owned “Accident Park,” as we jokingly called it, I found the place most amusing. It brings back memories of me as a kid, begging my parents to take me there, mainly for the go-carts. Towards the end of the park’s operation, one of the last rides to be introduced was this sort of reverse bungee jump. Riders would be placed in a harness and attached to a bungee cord between two towering poles and held to the ground as the cord was stretched. Once enough tension was attained, it would be released and the riders would be shot into the air like marbles in a slingshot and then free fall back to earth, still attached to the bungee. We often wondered how many whiplash cases came out of that ride. –Jersey Ed

All I Remember Was Blood

Most kids growing up know of at least one person who died in a car accident. But, if you grew up where I did, you know of at least one person who was seriously injured at Action Park.

When you entered Action Park, there were three things that immediately got your attention. The first was the Alpine Slide, one of the only non-water rides in the park. You’d get on a low plastic seat with wheels and a bar for “steering.” Then, they’d put you on a long, cracked, downhill racetrack and send you on your way. No helmets. No brakes (none that worked anyway). No warnings about the fact that a misplaced hand could result in a chopped-off finger. No stopping the crazy kid behind you from smacking into the back of your head. What fun! They actually had the audacity to have a “slow” lane and a “fast” lane. They should have been called “injured” lane and “dead” lane.

The second thing that would catch your eye was the abandoned slide. Action Park built an enclosed water slide, like a tube, that followed all sorts of twists and turns, and then, just for fun, did a complete loop, like a ROLLER COASTER loop. Upside down! Let me remind you that riders of this would not be in a car, not on a train, not on anything but water…water that would, with the help of gravity and magic, supposedly propel them through a narrow tube that loops completely upside down. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before some woman got caught in the top of the loop. The ride was closed, and, just as a morbid reminder, the loop was left in tact and on display for all to see.

There was, however, a physics-defying ride that the park chose to keep open, one that I proudly experienced firsthand. It was a cluster of four or five short, fast water slides that ended by shooting you out into a lake. Various kids would fly out at various times, landing on each other or on some misplaced sharp rock. One of these vigorous “shoots” was particularly intriguing, as it would suck you in and then immediately make an abrupt 90 degree turn. Not a 45 degree turn. Not even a nice, slow, smooth, curvy 90 degree turn. No. It would literally slam you into a wall and toss you in a different direction and then project your young, gnarled body into a gooey pond of crying kids and water snakes. It was awesome.

Finally, the third thing that would catch your attention was the ubiquitous “first aid cart.” Kind of like a golf cart, piloted by two zitty teens wearing oversized EMT shirts, the cart would inevitably be seen looping through the trails, grass, and little forests that surrounded the park. But, when you saw it, you wouldn’t see a kid with a scraped knee. You’d see a kid holding a blood-soaked towel on a huge head wound, you’d see a gash the size of a Big Gulp on someone’s leg. Blood, blood, blood. All I remember was blood. All for under 25 bucks a person.  –Alison Becker

Brothers in Bloody Arms…and Legs

The first I ever heard of Action Park was from the altar boys at our local church. They went each year as an end-of-summer trip sponsored by the parish. Each time, they came back with horrific tales, ones that made you think they only returned alive because they were attending the park on a trip sponsored by God Himself. They came back not just with stories, but with visceral evidence to prove their stories were true. Most often, this evidence came in the form of second-degree burns suffered in collisions on the Alpine Slide. One kid came back to the neighborhood after a trip to Action Park with a sprained ankle––the story went that he was riding a train that transported patrons between different sections of the park. The train stopped on a bridge, then caught fire. He was forced to leap to safety from this flaming train, injuring his ankle in the process.

My first and only trip to Action Park came during my middle school years, when my brother and I were invited to go to the park with two friends of ours who lived a couple blocks away. My parents were hesitant to let us go, knowing all the stories they had heard of Action Park, but eventually allowed us to attend. I remember that harrowing day as if it were yesterday.

Upon entering the park, we saw a waterslide, an enclosed green tube, that went in a full loop-de-loop. Even as a 12-year-old, I understood how physics would not allow anyone to come out of that tube with anything but mangled, broken limbs. According to the people I was with that day, the slide was never actually used by humans. During its test runs, done with realistic dummies, the dummies came out time and time again with their heads and arms ripped off. So it stood, merely as decoration.

My most personally terrifying experience came on a slide called the “Cannonball.” When I went on this slide, I was at the top of a hill. It seemed normal. There was no warning that halfway down the ride I would be shot into a pitch black tube. This was incredibly daunting. It became even worse when the tube opened back up only when it emerged sticking out from the face of a cliff. This slide sent unsuspecting riders shooting out of a cliff face some two stories above the water with absolutely no warning. It was just high enough that you had time to think and panic about your situation. Rider after rider, myself included, would scream in terror before hitting the surface of the slimy green water with a sickening slap. After this, the victims of the ride would gather at the edge of the pool to watch others suffer the same fate. It was like all the victims of a car wreck gathering at Dead Man’s Curve to watch the next car smash into the median.

The Tarzan Swing was a real treat as well. This ride was simply a beam hanging from a 20-foot-wire above a pool of stagnant water. One by one, people would grab the beam and swing out above the water, until they reached the swing’s apex, when they were expected to let go and plunge into the icy cold depths below. The wait to go on this ride was about three hours. Hundreds of people waited their turns, watching each person go before them. This led to an interesting phenomenon – riders realized they had a captive audience. The ride turned into a contest to see who could shout or do the most lewd thing while people watched them fly through the air. People giving the finger, shouting descriptive and awful things, and undressing in midair were commonplace.

There was also a cliff-jumping attraction at Action Park. I remember this because divers would jump into a pool that was used by anyone, not just those who had previously cliff-dived. So, many people thought they were just going swimming, and had no idea that human bodies would be flying at them from 30 feet high in the sky. There was exactly ONE lifeguard in this situation who was occupied 100% of his/her time tending to those who smashed into each other during these high-dive collisions.

The ride to rule all others at Action Park was unquestionably the Alpine Slide. This was an ingenious way to utilize the ski slope Action Park was built on. Stone tracks were laid down the side of the mountain. Riders would ride up a ski lift with a large sled hanging from the bottom. At the top, an attendant would take the sled off, put the rider on it, then send them careening at absolutely dizzying speeds down this stone track.

There were a number of things about the Alpine Slide that made it the best, yet least safe, ride ever. The first was that the track was positioned directly below the ski lift, so everyone riding down it was spit at by people floating in the sky above them. Secondly, the brakes never, ever worked on those sleds. Your sled either went supersonically fast, or so slow that you would be slammed by the supersonically fast sled behind you. People often fell off their sleds onto the stone tracks while going upwards of 40 miles per hour. You can imagine that during the summer, in shorts, bare human skin on a stone track at that speed led to nothing but lacerations and burns.

Action Park was a true rite of passage for any New Jersey kid 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. –Chris Gethard

Action Park Was Designed to Hurt People

I remember my only visit to Action Park as a kid and remember hurting myself several times and witnessing everyone in my party get injured as well. Before I go into detail, allow me to remind you of a few specifics.

I remember the upside down water slide called the “Cannonball Loop.” It really should have been called “absurdity.” I was about 11 at the time and could have told anyone or the designing engineer, for that matter, that it was a not only a liability but a horribly bad idea. Could you imagine pushing a 250-pound whale of a kid through there a few hundred times a day? Statistically, it was bound to destroy some unlucky child.

It does not surprise me that I still remember all these details––the park looked like it deliberately was designed to injure people. The rope swings in particular had large boulders strategically placed in a large pile underneath the platform and a portion of the small pool that people would be landing in.

The river rapids ride was great. Under-inflated and overloaded rafts would slam into walls and sharply-angled concrete. On one of these turns, my friend’s mother, as the raft literally buckled in half like a taco, flew into his knee and BROKE her nose. Blood was pouring out all over and the lady supposedly watching for injuries looked like she couldn’t give a crap.

I also remember a cage in the park where you could put on a parachuting suit and actually fly through the air. I did not try it––I had already seen enough.  –Greg Shpunder

Traction Park Employee Spills His Guts

I worked at Action Park! And there was some very important craziness going on. First, the grass skiing. That was so long ago, most people will go, “Holy shit, I forgot about the grass skiing!” We used to grass ski on the mountain in the summer. That was stupid. Only knee pads were recommended (that means they were not required). The grass skis were still in the basement of the lodge when I worked there in the early ’80s.

Then, they built the skateboard park––a masterpiece design where the smooth bowls were isolated by the BLACK TOP PAVEMENT between them. Who thought that was a good idea? The blacktop did not even meet the cement at a smooth edge. That skate park was responsible for so many injuries, we covered it up with dirt and pretended it never existed before we even thought of grander ways to hurt people, like the Honda Odysseys. Before the minivan of the same name, Honda made a 4-wheel, knobby-tired go cart, which well predates ATVs. That was wicked fun! (Mostly for the employees, who would ride them through the park terrorizing everyone in our path.) And that was when we weren’t driving our CARS through the park!

I worked on the Water World side. Motor World, which had many more toys to play with, was hard duty in the hot sun––no place to be in July when you can watch the girls on the water slides. Now, a few points of interest:

The Alpine Slide was not cement; it was fiberglass––which explains why your skin would fall off when you fell off. We used to thumb through 10 carts to get a good fast one before going for it. The attendant teenager would give us employees a lot more than the usual 20 seconds at the top for the poor soul in front to get a good head start. Picture croquet, at high speed. I did not die that night when I fell off the slide––I am alive and well in New Hampshire.

The Cannonball Loop was the brainchild of some Swiss guy they imported on a week-long visa. I was one of the idiots that accepted you-know-who’s crisp $100 bill to test run it. That was my last ride. $100 did not buy enough booze to drown out that memory.

All the wounds and injuries are true, including the idiot who jumped off the diving cliff into the 40-foot deep whatever-they-ended-up-calling-it pool––and he could not swim. After that, they painted the pool white so they could see bodies lying on the bottom.

Nothing was more fun than test driving the big water slides we built with the “down the toilet bowl flush” through the big tunnel––which we assembled from huge culvert pipes lined with tons of rebar, gunite, and empty beer cans. The filters we built were so big you could find bodies in there too! After we were all beaten up, we had to drain the whole thing and coat it with urethane foam. I can still smell the xylene!

And let’s not forget the brewery! On the Motor World side, no less! This is not a joke. Action Park was a pioneer in the microbrewery fad, and got a brewer from Germany to come over here and make high-octane suds. Yeehaw! We used to steal kegs, drink the beer, ride the Indy cars down Route 94, crash the Indy cars, get the Indy cars back to the park without anybody seeing us (there were only three cops in Vernon back then) and then go for a swim at the pools to sober up. I do not recall any night security at the park, ever.

Action Park brings back a lot of memories. Especially the drunken debauchery at the employee Christmas parties––are those guys wearing motocross boots and tuxedos? If you ever get bored, go dig up the skateboard park––I’m sure it’s still there. –Amazingly-not-wheelchair-bound Tom Fergus

Watching The Friction at Action Park

My favorite pastime at Action Park was watching people on the Alpine Slide ––especially when someone would fall off the sled but continue down the shoot of the slide. A friend of mine actually melted his nylon/polyester shirt to his skin on the Alpine slide. Then there were the numerous walking wounded burn victims at the various water slides over the course of a day. People just wearing a bathing suit and no shirt would travel at high speeds in rough fiberglass composite slides that made for friction burns you can only describe as criminal. Ah, the good old days!

Also, if you recall their ad’s tag line: “Come to Vernon Valley / Great Gorge, Action Park…” which we revised to: “Be rushed from Burns in Valley / Great Gauze, Blood Park…”  –John C.

A Survivor from Action Park Writes In

I was fortunate enough to have actually ridden the Action Park loop-de-loop water slide! Contrary to some reports, there was actually some level of safety associated with this particular ride. After climbing several stories of splintery wooden stairs, an attendant would weigh you in. Someone must have decided that a certain weight profile was necessary in order to complete this human physics experiment.

After this, you were instructed to take off any jewelry you might have on and herded to another station. An attendant there would then hose you down with icy-cold water. This pre-rinse was necessary to make sure that you were wet and slippery enough to make it around the loop. After a quick “keep your head down” instructional lesson, off you went into the “Humonga Cowabunga” -style straight-down speed tube that did not end in a flat slowdown lane but a full size 15 or 20 foot roller-coaster-style loop. When it was all over, the slide shot you into kind of a puddled wet mat instead of an actual pond or pool.

The only ill effect I suffered was a bit of a headache. By the time I rode it, they had added an escape hatch with a little window right before the loop started in case you didn’t make it all the way around. Action Park was a great place that stuck around a little longer than it should have in an increasingly lawsuit-prone society. –Steve Braybrook

Action Park Had Her In Stitches

There are two things I remember about Action Park.

The first was the “Freefall” water slide. This meant a person had to hike up a ladder and then slide straight down at some unbeknownst speed on top of a minute amount of water (the lighter you were, the faster you went). The bonus was at the end, when you got to pull your swimsuit down from around your neck and out of places you didn’t even know existed on your body. People would actually hang out at the end of the ride for the free shows. I saw things I never imagined.  –Luscious Linda

Banged Up And Bloodied Alpine Sliders

Ah, Action Park! I remember it well, but what stands out clearest in my memory is that at the bottom of the Alpine Slide a few paramedics would just stand around waiting for someone to need their assistance. They knew that it was a matter of WHEN and not IF some poor kid would get banged up and bloodied.

Also, they had some round boat-type things that acted sort of like bumper cars in a pool. My rather large father attempted to get into one of them and proceeded to get stuck tight and fast. I remember standing there with my little sister, burning with embarrassment as three stoners, er, staff members, took about 20 minutes to extricate my poor dad. Gotta love an amusement park that has no rules or guidelines!  –Cyn

More Traction Than Action

I definitely remember Action Park as a kid. My mom and her friend took me, my brother and her friend’s kids to Action Park only once. After much nagging, my mother finally agreed to take me on the Alpine Slide. My first clue that this was a bad idea should’ve been the blood-covered teenager being carried half-way down the mountain after her car flipped over. Of course, I was too young to think, “this might be a bad idea.” Well, I was scared out of my wits and almost ripped the so-called “brake” right off, I was pulling on it so hard (to no avail). I don’t remember going on anything else because I think I probably blocked it out of my memory. –Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten

Seizure Day at Action Park

I went to Action Park in the early 1990s with a church group for what I though would be a day of fun. Besides having my towel and flip flops stolen and going barefoot all day (my feet hurt so bad), I saw something I will never forget. A man was walking when he suddenly fell down on the pavement and began having what looked to me like a seizure. A park janitor was sweeping in the area, and instead of going to help the man, he swept around him and then stepped over him and walked away! I could not believe it. I ran over to him and the friend I was with began yelling for help.

Finally, a cart with what looked like two sixteen-year-olds showed up and took him away. God knows what happened to him! –Marc Beiner

 

“Gumbys” at Vermin Valley Great Gore

I am a former manager––in fact, the former head of security––for the now defunct Traction Park. The stories you hear are extremely truthful and not fabricated or embellished at all.

It sounds more impressive than it was; any security officer who lasted more than two years seemed to get the job eventually. I got it at the mature age of 21. I was unfortunately there when many of the ill-fated occurrences took place, including the 1987 drowning at the grave pool, numerous horrific accidents, and wild brawls that led to trips to the hospital.

Action Park was Extreme before Extreme existed––extremely dumb. Numerous bars and beer stands scattered strategically around the park could keep one in an alcohol-induced state of bravado practically all day! Combine that with a terrain which allowed for a lot of mischief to go unnoticed and you’ve got the makings for, well, a lotta Action! Action Park attendees were affectionately referred to as “Gumbys,” because you bounced off the ground when you hit!

I don’t know anyone who grew up in Vernon in the ’70s or ’80s who either didn’t work and or get injured there. I could fill an entire issue of Weird NJ with gross and strange things I witnessed in my four year there. One thing I do know for sure––NO ONE shed a tear when the place we referred to as “Vermin Valley Great Gore” was sold and closed. I have not been back in years, but I know some people who work at the new resort standing in its footprints and I have been told (and observed from a distance) that it is a fine company trying to make Vernon the wonderful resort town it always aspired to be. So if you are looking for something macabre, you will have to look elsewhere: The Cannonball Loop has left the building.  –Jim DeSaye

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