THRILL SEEKERS UNITE: Camden Park set to host coaster enthusiasts
HUNTINGTON — Elizabeth and Evangelos Ringas have had more ups and down than your average married couple.
But that’s a good thing, and bound to happen when you’re both a little crazy for roller coasters.
The Virginia-based couple and nearly 200 fellow members of American Coaster Enthusiasts will be descending upon the 1903-built, family-owned Camden Park this Sunday to show the historic park and its roller coasters some love.
The Sunday, May 12, Mother’s Day trip will include ACE members from 26 states including California, Washington, Maine, Massachusetts and Texas as well as Ontario, Canada, planning to visit West Virginia’s Camden Park.
Established in 1978, ACE is a nonprofit group with over 6,000 members worldwide, dedicated to focusing on the enjoyment, knowledge and preservation of roller coasters as well as recognition of some as architectural and engineering landmarks.
The visit is part of the group’s twoday 2019 ACE Preservation Conference that will also feature a Saturday visit to the revived Kentucky Kingdom (at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds) to celebrate the opening of its new roller coaster, The Kentucky Flyer, a wooden roller coaster constructed by The Gravity Group.
While at Camden Park on Sunday, the park’s Big Dipper wooden roller coaster, a classic 1958 NAD (National Amusement Devices) coaster with its NAD rolling stock, will officially be dedicated as an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark during the 2019 ACE Preservation Conference.
Elizabeth Ringas, the communications director for ACE, said the group is excited to be coming to West Virginia to pay homage to Camden Park, its coasters and to the Boylin family, which now is in their fourth generation of owning and operating the state’s only amusement park.
Jack Boylin’s grandfather J. P. Boylin helped transform Camden Park from a carousel and a few rides at the end of a trolley line, to a full-fledged family amusement park after he bought the park in 1950.
“We travel the world for the love of roller coasters and for as much as we love new roller coasters we also keep our focus too on preservation,” Ringas said. “They can become a lost treasure. Through the years and through wear and tear we are losing them and not a lot of new ones are built. When we heard about a new wooden roller coaster being built like the new one at Kentucky Kingdom we got super excited so we are going to Kentucky Kingdom Saturday and then to Camden Park Sunday for PreservationCon. Our focus is that we want these parks to stay around and we want to celebrate them for staying around so long.”
For those who don’t realize it, Ringas said Camden Park is filled with iconic and rare coasters. For instance, The National Amusement Device Company, from Dayton, Ohio, built both The Big Dipper in 1958 and the Lil’ Dipper in 1961.
“Camden Park’s coasters are so unique,” said Ringas, who has visited 111 parks in 31 states and one Canadian province. “The company (NAD) built during that time 32 coasters, but the Lil’ Dipper is the only operating kiddie coaster of its kind still in operation today.”
Also of note at Camden Park is the Pretzel gravity ride, the Haunted House, which was in 2007 one of only two original gravity-fed Pretzel rides still left in the United States, according to George LaCross, editor of Laff in the Dark, a website dedicated to dark houses.
Ringas, who was at Camden Park three years ago, said it is priceless to still have these rides with which to share with the next generation of visitors, and to have a family still running the business. Ringas said park enthusiasts are lucky on the East Coast to still have a number of classic family-owned parks such as Trimpers in Maryland and Knoebles in Pennsylvania, among others.
“Their Haunted House is so unique and that and a lot of these rides are taking us back in time to share that exact experience you had as a child with your children and grandchildren years later,” Ringas said. “We love that some of those rides have been preserved like that.”
In addition to the coasters, she said a lot of the ACE members are equally excited for some of the other rides, as well as that overall throwback family park atmosphere of Camden Park.
A self-confessed Tilt-A-Whirl junkie, Ringas said she can’t wait to ride that one at Camden Park, but that everyone in the group has their favorites at the park or rides they will seek out, whether it is the historic train or the Skyliner.
“We come together over roller coasters but we love so much about these amusement parks,” Ringas said. “I think we love the food just as much as we love roller coasters. We love sky rides and that is something that Camden Park has — that nice sky ride over the putt putt where you can take in the whole park. We also have a huge group of people who love log flumes and trains. A lot of members love trains, which we think is a nice compliment.
“We just want to treasure them like the treasures we feel like they are because Camden Park has held onto some of the rides that we don’t get to see anywhere anymore.”
Ringas, whose kids have grown up loving coasters and going to amusement parks around the country, said that riding rides with the kids is just a fun way to spend time as a family.
“In all of the craziness of social media and kids being run all over the place to sports non-stop we think that amusement parks are something special,” Ringas said. “We want to preserve that tradition that we can all come together over and all be together as a family.”
After an autumn where Camden Park welcomed in visitors from Europe as a result of being featured in the new “Fallout 76” video game, Boylin said they are grateful for groups such as ACE that travel great distances to experience the joy of the family park.
“We think it is fantastic and we are glad they are coming to see us and that they love The Big Dipper too,” Boylin said of the ACE visit. “We get at least one group of that type every year and this is a large group coming on Mother’s Day ... I think the interesting thing for roller coaster enthusiasts is that we have the Big Dipper and the Lil’ Dipper and the Haunted House and then we have added the figure eight coaster, Sling Shot, so we have more of the bases covered than you would think.”
Boylin said one group not invited to the Mother’s Day weekend celebration is raindrops, admitting the past few rainy years have been difficult for the park.
Last year, Huntington had its second rainiest year on record with 60.26 inches of rain. That type of drastic uptick in rain happened all over the East Coast in 2018 when 78 cities broke their records for annual rainfall.
So far, the rain is not letting up. The park was set to open this past weekend but rain on Saturday and then a weather-related power outage in the neighborhood Sunday killed what was to be the park’s opening weekend.
“We have a lot of great things planned for the season and we have other new stuff coming as it is firmed up,” Boylin said. “We are going to be doing some new stuff all summer long starting Memorial Day, but we are coming off of a couple of years of too much rain and hoping this will not be another. The less rain the better because the crowds just do not come if it is raining and last year it rained almost every day. We got like 60 inches and we were joking that Huntington was the new Seattle, but we looked it up and their average rainfall is like 35 inches. I don’t like that new designation. I want to be the new Phoenix.”
WHAT: A Tri-State tradition since 1903, the family-run, family-fun Camden Park is now open weekends in May.
HOURS: Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12, 18-19, and May 25-27 for the Memorial Day weekend.
WHAT IS THERE? Camden Park features more than 30 rides and attractions including the historic Big Dipper, kiddie rides, old-fashion Midway games, the Swan Lake Paddleboats, WV Adventure MiniGolf and Aunt Dovie’s Petting Farm.
SCHOOL DAYS: The Park is also hosting its 72nd annual School Days on May 9, 16, 23, and 30 (with a theme of The World of Heraldry)
ADMISSION: Admission is $16.49 when you buy online.
MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL: Moms get in for $1 on Sunday, May 12 when another adult pays regular admission price.
CONTACT: Check out more information on Camden Park as well as coupons and discounts at camdenpark.com or by calling 304-429-4321.