Access. The park is right next to I-64, but you have to go three miles up the interstate, exit, then drive back down a neighborhood boulevard to reach the parking lot. If a major corporation bought this park, first thing they'd do would be negotiate with the state to put an interchange right there.
First Impressions. It is really depressing to enter the park with a magnificent looping shuttle coaster looming over the parking lot, and rusting away from disuse. Managers say they have never been able to get the computer working properly. If so, they should either sell the ride to a good home, or appeal for help from the coaster community. This death from disuse is tragic.
You pay $3 to park and $19 admission. Given the fight these small parks have to survive, those are fair enough prices. We certainly got our money's worth.
If a major company with deep pockets bought this park it could be a gem. Bordered on one side by a forested hill and on the other by a forested knoll, with a fine pond in the middle, if properly landscaped and laid out this could be just as picturesque as Idlewild or Hershey.
The park has two coasters, both worth riding. The Little Dipper is the kiddie version. It compares somewhat with a Taxi Jam but it's a true wooden frame model with a true coaster train. Everything from the restraining bar to the wheels on the track is a little loose, giving a shifting ride. It can't match the Beastie or the Ghoster Coaster, but it's still a good junior experience.
The Big Dipper is a smooth riding family woodie complete with tunnel and comfortable three car trains. It is very well maintained and worth a trip to the park even though it's no Raven or Jackrabbit.
The log flume is a scaled down version. It does have two lifts but they're half as high as Kennywood's, and the channel is sunk into the ground for much of the ride.
Camden offers standard versions of the Scrambler, TiltaWhirl, Roundup, Ferris Wheel, Spider, Carousel, Musik Express, Chairlift and half a dozen kiddieland rides.
But it also offers some unique experiences.
The train features a locomotive which leans outward at about a 45 degree angle, looking very much like it should fall off the tracks at any minute. But it apparently has looked like this for a long time, and runs fine anyway.
Camden has a fine vintage Mangels Whip. it is a foreshortened model, with very short straights and very tight curves. This, plus rather loose tolerances at all points, high speed and very long ride cycle, tends to beat the rider up a bit more than the typical Whip, since you're just coming out of the last turn and the car is positioning for the next one. This is the smallest adult Whip we've seen.
The Dodger Cars are also a compact model, with no center strip. Camden runs only a dozen cars with a small floor. But they have good speed, quickness and maneuverability, and the park gives a very long ride. This ride is notable because of the U-shaped safety bar which comes down over the rider in addition to the shoulder belt. I haven't seen these on any other Dodger Car model.
Possibly the park's pride and joy is its Haunted House, a combination roller coaster and dark ride. This is one of the oldest dark rides in the country, ranking right up there with KW's Old Mill. The technology is clearly dated -- there are no holograms or laser beams here -- but it's still a hoot. it was also a hoot to see the attendant standing under the Absolutely Only Two Riders Per Car sign and allowing a third person to sit on someone's lap, in one case sending three giggling high school girls through and in another sending a mother and her two children.
The big addition for '03 is a Zamperla Kite, and while this is not one of the giant models, it is still pretty slick. It's basically a Wave Swinger except riders lay down on a small two person platform rather than sitting in a suspended chair. There is the same tilted circular path. This is a great ride. But it's too bad Camden didn't spend the money on the giant version, which is spectacular.
Camden tries to compensate for its limited selection of rides and lack of any truly spectacular ride by giving ride cycles two or three times those found in other parks. if there's no line, sometimes they'll run a ride until someone indicates they've had enough. They also let customers just stay on a ride through several loading cycles unless they have a capacity crowd.
The food selection is not much, but the prices are quite reasonable.
Camden has purchased new plastic swan boats, which look beautiful on their large pond with the two fountains in the middle. But the park makes a serious error when it charges $6 extra for each ride. Given the small ride selection, Camden cannot afford to exclude anything from the ride all day admission price. And there's nothing special about a swan boat which would make it worth one third the overall admission price.
Camden is worth a visit for the coasters, dark ride, whip and kites. it's worth a visit as a trip back in time, and as a donation to help keep small parks alive as a sort of living history.
But the real hope is that this park surivives long enough to be bought by, say, Kennywood. A larger company with deep pockets could upgrade this place into a great stop in just a few years. As the only park in West Virginia, right off the interstate, in the center of the state, it could easily be another Idlewild, Waldameer or Holiday World. And it has plenty of room for expansion.
I'd just replace it with a new Allen-Bradley PLC... they're simple to program, and not that expensive at all in the long run. It'd be a lot cheaper to buy and program a new computer than to buy even a cheap, used flat ride.
I heard somewhere that the train was in a bad state of disrepair, and needed to be replaced. That sounds like a much more logical reason to keep a ride down.
Come on, fhqwgads!
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