Action Park: The World's Most Dangerous Amusement Park
If you grew up in the tri-state area in the 1980’s, you were probably on the receiving end of the aggressive marketing of Action Park. The commercials ran what seemed to be non-stop. Action Park boasted one of the first waterparks in the US. Go-Karts, Wave Pools, Tarzan Swings, and Battle Tanks are only some of the wild rides Action Park had to offer.
I went once or twice as a kid, but I never had the nerve to take on some of the more “intense” rides. However, with the promise of action, came the danger. Action Park was a hotbed of injury, and even death.
Action Park was an amusement park, and a waterpark located in Vernon, NJ that opened on May 26th, 1978. It closed in 1996.
In the 1980’s Action Park boasted a million visitors per year. The park was home to three different areas: Motorworld, Waterworld, and The Alpine Center. Waterworld being one of the first-ever modern American water parks. Out of the 75 rides, 40 of them were water rides.
Action Park was known for being the world’s most dangerous amusement park for a reason. The park earned nicknames such as "Traction Park, "Accident Park", and "Class Action Park". It was known to be lax when it came to underage drinking, which lead to both intoxicated staff and guests. The staff tended to be underage, under-trained, and inexperienced.
One of Motorworld’s more notorious rides were the Battle Tanks. You could ride in a metal tank and shoot tennis balls at the target of the other tank, which would disable their cannon for 15 seconds. You could also pay to shoot tanks from the sidelines. When maintenance tried to fix broken tanks, rowdy guests would shoot the maintenance workers. Motorworld also had boat rides, which were different than bumper boats, would try to capsize the other boats. The go karts fumes were at dangerous levels, and if you stuck a tennis ball in the governor of the kart, it would increase the speed of the kart, leading to head on collisions.
There was a cliff jump of either 18 or 23 feet. The area shared the water with people that just wanted to swim, and weren’t aware of the people jumping from the cliff above.
Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, was a more costly and further amusement park. Action Park attracted a lot of the people in the tri-state area. Many of those guests, because they came from low-income to middle class neighborhoods, didn’t always have the availability or means to learn how to swim. Also kids from day camps who didn’t know how to swim would get dropped off.
The Tidal Wave pool, one of the first to open in the United States, which quickly became one of the most dangerous rides at the park. Nicknamed, “The Grave Pool,” it was filled with fresh water, not sea water, which made patrons less buoyant and left strong swimmers and non-swimmers alike literally in over their heads as waves that could reach 40 inches at high blast. The 12 lifeguards on duty rescued, on average, 30 people a day on high-traffic weekends.
The Alpine Slide was a 2,700-foot-long concrete and fiberglass track down a mountainside so steep you needed a ski lift to get to the top. The daring (or dumb) would hop on a little cart with tiny wheels and some skids, then go barreling down the mountainside with only a little joystick-style control.
The most infamous of Action Park’s ride was the Cannonball Loop. The Cannonball Loop was enclosed waterslide with a complete vertical loop. According to legend, when the owners sent a dummy doll on a test run of the ride, it came back with no head. The owner Gene Mulvihill offered his employees $100 to test out new rides, including the Cannonball Loop. Employees wound up with bloody noses and bruises, and dirt and debris would build up and cause abrasions with the sandpaper like build up. The ride was open, for all of one month in the Summer of 1985, before mounting injuries saw it shut down by the New Jersey Carnival Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board.
Between 1984 and 1985 alone there were 26 head injuries and 14 broken bones just on the slide, but the most common injuries involved having skin torn from your body.
In 1985 there were more than 110 injuries at Action Park, including 45 head injuries and 10 fractures. But Action Park was fined just once between 1979 and 1986 for not following procedure.
In 1987, the director of a nearby hospital’s Emergency Room admitted 5-10 people were being brought in daily from the park. Reported injuries included ankle sprains, broken bones, and cuts and contusions, dislocations, and concussions. The park denied wrongdoing, but Great American Recreation purchased additional ambulances for the town of Vernon to keep up with the increased volume of injured park goers.
Action Park reopened in 2014 under the Action Park name, but was renamed Mountain Creek Waterpark in 2016, which was the name used from 1998-2013. The name changed occurred because although the name Action Park resonated with the older crowd because of the nostalgia, did not resonate with younger guests, as it didn’t indicate that it was a waterpark.
For those looking for a bit of nostalgia, below is one of the many local commercials for Action Park.
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