THE THRILL IS GONE
Amusement parks usually conjure up images of soaring, spinning thrill rides, invigorating roller coasters, and stately Ferris wheels. But sometimes theme parks suffer unwelcome thrills of their own — from natural disasters to human tragedy to insolvency — and are forced to close. Such parks often lie in ruin, although a handful still hold out hope of rebirth or restoration. All are fascinating reminders of what a bad storm, bad luck, or a few bad business decisions can do to a once-cherished destination. Visitors to these sites should be sure to plan ahead. Some are in redevelopment talks, while others may have disappeared for good.
DISNEY'S RIVER COUNTRY | FLORIDA
Disney's River Country originally opened in June 1976 and had the distinction of being the company's first water park. After the opening of the Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks, however, River Country began to show its age and Disney shut it down in 2002. It resurfaced in the news two years ago when Disney decided to drain and fill in the abandoned pool. This past spring, news leaked that Disney is planning to build a large-scale themed resort and timeshares on the site.
SIX FLAGS NEW ORLEANS
Abandoned following the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the story of Six Flags New Orleans is tragic. Numerous proposals have been made for redevelopment of the site — including offers to buy the property in 2017, but nothing has materialized. City officials are struggling to come up with a definitive plan for the site. In the meantime, it's become the backdrop for several recent films, including "Deepwater Horizon" starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson. Visitors aren't permitted on park grounds, but many of the abandoned attractions can be seen from outside the park.
LAKE SHAWNEE AMUSEMENT PARK | WEST VIRGINIA
An amusement park with a haunted past, Lake Shawnee was built in the 1920s on land where an early settler's children were murdered in the late 1700s. In the 1960s, two young children died while visiting the park, leading to its closure in 1966. These days, the park opens each October for a Dark Carnival with tours of the site every Friday and Saturday night through Halloween.
DOGPATCH USA | ARKANSAS
Fans of the Li'l Abner comic strip and cartoon may remember Dogpatch as the home of all its colorful country characters. By the mid-1980s, however, Dogpatch was no longer a moneymaker — it was sold several times before closing in 1993. It was sold again in 2014, to entrepreneur Charles "Bud" Pelsor, though he's now looking for a buyer. In the meantime, the curious have been able to message Pelsor and his team on Facebook for $5 tours, and it opens occasionally for events. Last year, an entertainment company called Heritage USA began leasing the property from Pelsor, but that arrangement appears to have fallen apart.
HOLY LAND USA | CONNECTICUT
Holy Land USA provided a little slice of biblical history for nearly 30 years. The 18-acre attraction opened in 1955 and quickly became a popular spot for visitors to see recreations of stories from the Bible. It closed in 1984, although there have been recent attempts to resurrect it. The park temporarily re-opened in September 2014, after a lighted cross was put up on the property. This month, more than 1,000 people gathered there for a Mass honoring the Rev. Michael McGivney, a local priest who is a candidate for sainthood.
HOBBITON USA | CALIFORNIA
It's a long way to the Shire from here — and a long way from this eclectic recreation of J.R.R. Tolkien's world to the rich and textured one in the Peter Jackson films. Hobbiton USA was originally built in the 1970s, when the closest Tolkien had come to the big screen was the oddly charming 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated version of "The Lord of the Rings" and a Rankin/Bass cartoon TV special in 1977. The simple sculptures of the California Hobbiton, which closed in 2009, reflect those efforts. (If you're visiting Phillipsville to see the remains of Hobbiton, don't miss the chance to take in the nearby Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile stretch of highway that winds through ancient redwoods.)
WILLIAMS GROVE AMUSEMENT PARK | PENNSYLVANIA
Dating to 1850, Williams Grove Amusement Park remained open until 2005. Fans still post details of visits they've made to the park on Facebook, where photos depict the park in its heyday. Those eager for an in-person glimpse may want to visit sooner rather than later. The park reportedly has been the target of recent vandalism, altering its faded allure.
SPACE CITY USA | ALABAMA
Space City USA was a product of 1960s space-race enthusiasm. Plans for the $5 million theme park called for attractions such as Dead Man's Island, Moon City, and Time Circle. But sadly it all fell to Earth in 1967 as bad weather, swamp-related problems with the site, cost overruns, and other issues scuttled the park's opening. Remnants and details of of the dream can still be seen on a Facebook fan page.
GEAUGA LAKE PARK | OHIO
Geauga Lake Park operated from 1887 to 2007 — one of a few amusement parks in the country to span the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Already a popular spot for picnics and swimming when it opened, it featured everything from an Olympic-size swimming pool to a race track, dance hall, theater, and bowling alley. Throughout the decades, Geauga Lake added many attractions and rides, including a number of popular roller coasters and other parks on surrounding sites. In 2016 the last of those, Wildwater Kingdom, called it quits. Grocery store chain Meijer had contracted to purchase the property, but it announced this month that it has abandoned plans to build a store there.
JOYLAND AMUSEMENT PARK | KANSAS
Opened in Wichita in 1949, Joyland was an amusement park fixture that closed in 2006. The years since haven't been kind to the site, with vandalism, theft, and fire ravaging the remains, including a blaze that destroyed the park’s beloved Whacky Shack ride this summer. In recent years, many of the old rides were sold off or given away and old structures torn down.
ROCKY POINT PARK | RHODE ISLAND
Rocky Point Park in Warwick was a pioneer in American amusement parks. It opened in 1847 and didn't close until 1995, falling victim to many of the same market forces that shuttered so many classic amusement parks in the 1990s and 2000s. After making it through a nasty phase of abandonment and vandalism, the area has been cleaned up and made part of the new Rocky Point State Park.
MIRACLE STRIP AMUSEMENT PARK | FLORIDA
This Panama City Beach park harkens back to the boom of seaside attractions in the 1960s. It opened in 1963 and, like many of its contemporaries, limped into the new century — and then closed in 2003. Despite attempts at reviving the attraction, the rides were eventually auctioned off.
BEDROCK CITY | SOUTH DAKOTA
Seeking to cash in on the popularity of the Flintstones in the 1960s, the company behind the cartoon decided to allow entrepreneurs to license the characters for use in theme parks in the United States and Canada. The Canadian parks disappeared (or morphed into their own brand) in the 1990s, but the Custer, South Dakota, park clung to life until 2015. It recently reopened as the Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort of the Black Hills, where camping costs as little as $25 a night and hints of the Flintstones can still be found. (The last place to see a Bedrock City park is Valle, Arizona, for $5 admission. It went up for sale two years ago, and there's no telling what it will become.)
JUNGLE HABITAT | NEW JERSEY
From 1972 until 1976, Jungle Habitat let visitors get up close and personal with animals — including rhinos, lions, tigers, and monkeys — in its walk-through zoo and drive-through park. Sometimes things got too up close and personal, and visitors were injured by the animals. Warner Brothers owned the 800-acre facility, and eventually it was sold to the state and became part of an area park. Mountain biking is big there, and visitors can still see remnants of the animal park as well as actual animals: American black bears are fairly common in the area near the Appalachian Trail.
FUN SPOT AMUSEMENT PARK & ZOO | INDIANA
As amusement parks go, the family-owned Fun Spot in far Northeastern Indiana had a pretty good run, lasting more than 50 years, from 1956 to 2008. Its popular Afterburner roller coaster had the state’s only roller coaster with an inversion until 2008. Today parts of the park still remain visible, and the some of the grounds have been used as a rugby playing field.