My fiancé and I finally got around to making the trip down to Camden Park. I had heard a lot about this park, both negative and positive and I was anxious to visit and form my own opinions. We left Columbus, OH, in blistering heat and humidity at about 9am. We took a leisurely drive and finally arrived at the park just after 12. It was still blistering hot and humid, but fortunately, there was a bit of a breeze.
Camden is located just to the west of Huntington, West Virginia, on US 60. The large, neon-lit smiling clown sign presiding over the parking lot makes the park easy to find. We pulled into the parking lot and forked over the $3 parking charge (boo, hiss) and proceeded to search out a space. The parking lot was full and we parked about as far away as possible. Not terribly tragic, as the lot is smaller than your average grocery store lot. The walk to the entrance gate brought us alongside the chairlift ride (whose supports could use a coat of paint) and a pathetic looking Arrow Shuttle Loop, The Thunderbolt Express. Some new-looking landscaping graced an old wall just to the left of the entrance gate. The wall is apparently the remains of a rather large building. Just behind the wall sat a Chance Skydiver. The new attraction this year is Swan Boats on the lake (extra fee).
A $14.99 +tax POP is the only choice of admission. Individual ride tickets are not available. Children and seniors get in for $9.99. A special Friday evening promotion gets you in after 6pm for $6. We paid for our tickets and stepped inside the park and immediately noticed the strong odor. The smell was reminiscent of pit toilets. It permeated most of the park. At least it reminded me that I wanted to use the bathroom. There are only two bathrooms in the entire park – men and women’s – and while they are near each other, they are not adjacent. This caused a little bit of confusion with my fiancé. The bathrooms were adequate but they could have been a little cleaner and they could have had a bit more soap in the dispensers. They’ll also cost you a nickel if you want to use a stall with a door. My fiancé also pointed out that pay toilets are sexist as there is no charge for a urinal. I suggested that she use the sink in protest.
Business taken care of, we proceeded to the rides. We chose The Whip as our first ride of the day. This classic 8-tub Whip was not the smoothest Whip I’ve been on, but great fun. The 8-tub model is a different ride from the giant 16-tub whip at Kennywood, as there is very little lag time between whips. The ride cycle was generous, a trend that would be repeated throughout the day. It’s still one of my favorite flat rides. The park was crowded, and I was happy to see this park doing well even though it meant some long lines. We walked past the Spider and the Tilter (tilt a whirl) as I was not feeling up to becoming nauseous this early in our visit. We stopped at the Scrambler (located alongside the Adena Indian Mound) and took a ride. It bumped and groaned but still delivered the fun I expect from a Scrambler. It’s one of the few spin and spews that doesn’t cause me to spew. We again walked past the Tilt and the Spider and ended up at the old wooden, gravity-powered Haunted House (or is the Hawnted House? – the sign makes it hard to tell). This is a great-looking ride and it had one of the longest lines in the park – probably due to the dismal capacity of the ride. They were only running four two-person cars. The ride could almost be considered a roller coaster. A short chain lift brought our car up to a quick turnaround to a small hill. Down we went and up again to enter the building. The car quickly traverses a number of hairpin turns, mostly in the dark with a few stunts every so often. I suspect that a lot of the stunts weren’t working. The car is manually braked (literally, a ride attendant grabs the car to stop it). Even without a lot of effects, it’s a neat ride.
Nestled in a small grove of trees is a small beat-up carousel in an oversized pavilion. It doesn’t look like much, but it runs well. I really feel that a carousel ride without a band organ is only half the experience. There was the faint sound of recorded music, but it just wasn’t the same.
The park has several food outlets selling the usual assortment of amusement park fare. We elected to have lunch at the parks air-conditioned cafeteria. The prices were fair, the staff was friendly, and they had a decent menu to choose from. Beware of the charge for water. We were told that tap water would be the same price as a soft drink (!). We made a quick stop at the Gift Shop. Half the space looked to be used for administrative purposes. The rest of the building contained a sparse assortment of items. The only really notable item were cool little wooden cutouts of the park’s signature attractions. I was in need of film but couldn’t bring myself to pay $7.99 for 24 exposures.
We took a trip on the Skyliner (chairlift). It runs right alongside the SBNO Thunder Express and over a decaying section of the parking lot. It’s a round-trip ride and I found it odd that the park has two transportation rides (the other is the train) but neither one actually takes you anywhere. The train (International Amusement Device) is next to the chairlift entrance and is a nice slow ride around the log flume and Swan Lake. We decided that it was time to try out a coaster, and being next to the Lil’ Dipper, we hopped on board.
The Lil’ Dipper is a small Jr. wooden coaster running a handsome art deco NAD jr. coaster train. The coaster is nearly identical to the defunct Comet Jr. that once ran at Nay Aug Park in Scranton PA, my first coaster ride. The Lil’ Dipper is a good ride and reasonably smooth, with some shuffling around the turns. The shuffle was particularly noticeable in the final turnaround.
Across from Lil’ Dipper is the Log Flume. The ride is nicely situated with a lightly landscaped, naturalistic setting. I counted 5 boats in use with another sitting on the "dock". Judging by the size of the line, this is one of the park’s most popular rides. It’s an interesting ride with logs floating at ground level in a concrete trough. A small lift and hill appears after a couple of turns. The logs roll down this hill "dry" as the water pump wasn’t in operation (and from the looks of it, hasn’t operated in quite a while). Despite the dry hill, the log made quite a splash at the bottom. A few more turns and a run through a marshy area surrounded by tall cattails brought us upon the large hill. The log landed with a satisfying splash and returned to the station.
Heading back to the other side of the park led us past the Chance Skydiver. I don’t know why I ride these things. I get off of them and tell myself "never again," but of course I do it again. I rather like the ride itself but hanging upside down for extended periods of time while the ride loads is not much fun, at least the tubs were easy to control. I got a good view of Thunderbolt Express from the top of the Skydiver and noticed that the coaster train is still up there rotting away.
Then we walked over to the Dodgems. The cars looked brand new. I think I counted 12 Majestic (Barbieri) cars with shoulder belts and a lap bar. They still ran in an ancient building complete with springboards around the perimeter. There were no one way rules even though there were these odd barriers (essentially tires, free to spin on a pedestal) down the middle of the course spaced far enough apart to drive the car through. I guess the purpose was to keep the cars from ending up in tangled mess. It’s an interesting idea and worked well. The cars were excellent runners and the op was generous with the ride time. One of the best bumper car rides I’ve had in a long time. Next we headed over to Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper is sort of an overgrown Jr. Woody about 50 feet high running a beautiful NAD Century Flyer train. Parts of the coaster looked a bit rickety while others sported fresh wood. The bottom of the dips contained a lot of new reinforcing. The last two seats of the train were not being used (although they weren’t missing any obvious parts like seats) The ride is an odd little layout with a couple of high but shallow dips, a couple deeper dips and a long, light-leaky tunnel. The two trim brakes on the ride grabbed the car lightly and didn’t seem obtrusive. The ride was a lot of fun with a few moments of light airtime and remarkably smooth! The heavily padded Century Flyers soak up a lot of bumps.
Among the notable rides at Camden include the Hot Cat. An old caterpillar ride inside a pavilion that has been turned into a sort of Music Express type ride with loud music and strobe lights. Lined up next to the Hot Cat were an Eli Ferris Wheel, Magic Rainbow (roundup), and a Paratrooper. The park’s 25 rides include 9 kiddy rides including the neat pony cart ride, a kiddy whip, and handcars. I tried to convince the operator to let me ride the handcars but he refused. Most of the kiddy rides are located in a strip between the Haunted House and the parking lot. A few others are scattered around the park.
Camden Park is like a step back in time. The park looks well worn, tattered and frayed in places but with hints of reconstruction and rebuilding scattered around. There is the cracked concrete slab where a building once stood. The rusted remains of the batting cages, old queue lines and concrete pads from some long removed rides near the lake, some of the buildings needed work and there were weeds growing between cracks in the pavement and underneath the rides. Still, it really seems like they are making an effort to upgrade the condition of the facilities. I admit that my first impressions were ones of disappointment but after several hours in the park, the place really began to grow on me. I hope they continue to clean up its rough edges but I also hope they are careful to preserve the air of authenticity that permeates the park. It has a rare and unique atmosphere that is hard to find these days. Too much modernization would ruin it. Anyone with an interest in amusement park history, older rides, and classic, old fashioned fun will find a lot to like about Camden Park - just remember to bring your nickels!
The one thing consistant in all camden trip reports is the mention of the pay toilets. The best reaction to this is at
Off with the trims!
My fellow Americans; Let's Roll!
We visited Camden last year and had a ball.
I love the old bumpercar buildings with the springboards. Inline bumpercars are a blast on these. The whip? I still throw my hands up from time to time!
Don't know why the park grows on ya but it can be really fun with friends.
Lesourdsville Lake, The great American amusement park opens the season June 6th Thurs-Sun every week. Park phone is (513)539-2193
Interesting thing about the pay toilets: from speaking to my female friends, sometimes a park employee is in the women's restroom putting nickels in the stalls for everyone who needs one. I don't know why this is true sometimes and not others. And I believe the handicapped stall(s) aren't pay, but don't quote me on that.
Millrace, I wonder what the odor you smelled might have been. I've been several times over the past two years, and I haven't noticed any unusual odors. The wall you noticed that appeared to be the remnant of a large building was from the old rollerskating rink that burned several years ago. The park used to keep this facility open year round, but since rollerskating has lost most of its popularity, it has never been rebuilt. (And they built a small office building on the site this year, as well as locating the Skydiver there, and building a small performance stage for entertainers on the Midway.) Funny memory about the rollerskating rink: I once managed a band that played in that facility, on the rink floor behind a wire cage structure as people skated on the other side. One person broke their leg during that show... (That wasn't funny, but he's doing well now.)
Anyway, thank you for the comments. I wish that Camden Park would read Coasterbuzz so they can see the strengths and weaknesses of the park through the eyes of outsiders.
I really wish this park was closer to me. Wyandot Lake just doesn't cut it. :)
A woman I talked to on the train said the odor came from the swampy ground around the lake and log flume. She said it's been like that for 16 years. It could have been the Ohio River as well.
Now if you want a real smell, drive a few miles east on I-64 to Nitro. The chemical plants there give it a definite odor...
84 coasters in Track Record!! Hypersonic XLC # 100 in July. Waiting for the 305 foot drop tower in 2003. Thank you PKD.
btw, if you haven't been to camden yet this year make the trip. i'm not really a big dipper fan but it's running this year better than it has the last couple seasons. if they could only get the last two rows of seats open!
everything's better with a banjo
Wonderfully written and accurate TR of my home park. I've been going to Camden Park since I was 2 y.o. I make it a point to go back to the park every season at least one time as a tradition. My 13 y.o. son and I went a couple of weeks ago and had a great time. We did the Friday $6.00 at 6 p.m. deal. Neat that you mentioned the wooden cutouts of the parks signature rides as I purchased one of the Big Dipper. As a 12 year old, I rode the "Dipper" 112 times in one day.
Take it easy, DAC
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