"The action never stops... at Action Park!"
Action Park (originally operating from 1978-96) was a Theme Park, located in the town of Vernon in northwestern New Jersey. It featured an alpine slide, a ski area (it was part of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge Ski Resort, now known as Mountain Creek), and two themed areas: Motorworld (based around vehicles) and Waterworld (a water park).
The park's founder and owner, the businessman Eugene "Gene" Mulvihill, was a staunch libertarian who saw health and safety guidelines as unneeded government overreach at worst and vague suggestions at best. As such, the park gained notoriety due to frequent injuries and a number of fatalities, due to its poorly designed and maintained equipment and lax enforcement of safety rules.
Though it was a popular Summertime destination for New Yorkers and New Jerseyans in the 1980s, legal and financial troubles caused Action Park and the adjoining Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski resort to shut down after the 1996 season. The complex was purchased by Intrawest in 1998 and rebranded as Mountain Creek Waterpark. The facility is still in operation, with increased safety features and regulatory compliance, having had its old rides either replaced or refurbished.
The YouTube series Defunctland has an episode covering its history, here. The YouTuber Iilluminaughtii also made an episode on it. It was also featured on an episode of Behind the Bastards. A full-on documentary, Class Action Park, debuted in August 2020 on HBO Max with John Hodgman narrating.
Action Park provided examples of the following tropes:
- Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Alcohol was sold at concession stands with little enforcement of the drinking age, meaning that many rides that were dangerous enough to go on sober were operated by drunk employees and ridden by drunk guests. This was a major contribution to accidents.
- Amusement Park of Doom: One of the most infamous Real Life examples.
- Attack Its Weak Point: The official goal of Tank Ride was to target sensors on the back of tanks with a tennis-ball cannon; hitting a sensor would freeze the struck vehicle for a set amount of time. Less considerate riders used the same cannons to harass employees trying to maintain order.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Action Park heavily promoted their looping water slide in its commercials as a unique attraction of the park. However, many guests were injured by the ride or did not have enough momentum to pass through the loop. An escape hatch was later added to free these individuals.
- Bubblegloop Swamp: The speedboat and bumper boat rides were held in small, fetid ponds that were known to be infested with snakes.
- Callousness Towards Emergency:
- In the documentary Class Action Park, one former attendee recounts what he saw in the Tarzan Swing ride, in which a person hung on to swing rope and and dropped about ten feet onto the pool below. Since the pool was spring fed, a person could go into shock going from 90-degree (F) heat to water that was at least 30 degrees (F) colder, and the crowd waiting their turn, upon seeing someone struggling to swim, or being fished out by a lifeguard, would point at them and scream demeaning and vulgar insults at the unfortunate victim.
- A former lifeguard recounts the time that she was assigned to supervise the race boat pond: one boat crashed onto another, and the rider on top tried to keep going, not caring that he was crushing the rider on the bottom. The lifeguard yelled at him to stop, and hit the boat with a stick to get him to stop pressing on the accelerator. When the top rider got off, he walked away like nothing happened.
- Comedic Sociopathy: Former employees have confessed to hanging out near a snack bar near the "Surf Hill" attraction since they could see either lost bikini tops, grievous injuries, or both.
- Competence Zone: An inadequate training regimen led to a lot of the accidents, as employees were not qualified to properly operate the attractions (and were often teenagers themselves).
- Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The pool was nicknamed the "Grave Pool" by lifeguards due to how many people they pulled out, as well as the fact that three people drowned there. Up to 30 people could require rescue in a single weekend, and there were always a dozen lifeguards on watch at any one time. Since most of the park's visitors were from the New York and New Jersey areas, they were used to going to salt water beaches and didn't account for the lack of buoyancy they'd have in fresh water. According to Class Action Park, the deep end of the pool was known as the "Death Zone" among employees, and new lifeguards were stationed there first.
- Lower-Class Lout: According to Class Action Park, a great percentage of the attendees were people of blue-collar background from New York City. Their lack of manners and decorum is why so many people got hurt trying to push themselves and the rides to their limits, and why the staff had to develop a routine to take care of a "Code Brown".
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The name "Action Park" was already something of a red flag itself, but the punning nicknames it gained (mostly from employees) such as "Traction Park", "Class-Action Park", and "Accident Park" really upped the ante. The "Grave Pool" nickname for the wave pool also wound up being brutally accurate.
- No OSHA Compliance: One of the more infamous Real Life examples. It wasn't that the park didn't try to advocate safety, but the owner's philosophy was that guests should feel in control of their experience and decide for themselves what they could handle. He even encouraged guests to be as rowdy as they wished.
- Nostalgia Filter: Many of the contributors to The World's Most Dangerous Amusement Park remember the place fondly and think that, for all the mayhem that went on, the place was exciting in a way that later parks are not. Many people from New Jersey, the ones who didn't realize or think about how dangerous it was, often considered Action Park to be a rite of passage.It kinda makes me sad, I wonder if kids today have that feeling of "Man, let's go prove our backbone."
- Off with His Head!: The infamous looping water slide apparently did this to test dummies.
- Player Versus Player: The "Action Park Gladiator Challenge", based on American Gladiators.
- Precision F-Strike: A hidden case happened once the lifeguards decided to brand whoever they saved by writing on their wristbands "CFS", short for "can't fucking swim."
- Reconstruction: A literal example in the park's grand re-opening, which now goes by the motto "All of the thrills, none of the spills." This is most evident in the successor to the Cannonball Loop, the Sky Caliber, which is designed so that a safe looping water slide would actually be plausible (though it was never built).
- Restraining Bolt: The Super Go Karts and LOLA Cars tracks had vehicles that ostensibly had a maximum speed of 20 mph (32 km/h) thanks to their governor devices. The staff knew that wedging tennis balls into the devices would disable them, allowing them to go up to 50 mph (80 km/h), and were willing to do so if a visitor desired.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
- Employees were reportedly offered $100 bills to test the infamous looping waterslide. According to a former employee, "$100 did not buy enough booze to drown out that memory."
- Despite the countless injuries (both minor and serious), and even a few deaths, owner Gene Mulvihill never faced any serious legal repercussions. This was because Action Park brought a large influx of cash to the local economy in the Summer, and his nearby ski resorts brought the cash in the Winter. What finally brought him down was all the bad press and word of mouth; his investors started distancing themselves, and after his two other business chains in ski resorts dried up, he was forced to shut down the park in 1996.
- Tank Goodness: The "Tank Ride", where riders shot at other tanks, stopping them in place for 15 seconds.
- Too Fast to Stop:
- A common problem with the Go Karts and LOLA Cars if their Restraining Bolt was removed.
- The sleds in the Alpine Slide, as they only had two speeds: frustratingly slow and overly fast. The first fatality at the park was a guest who lost control, flew off the track, and hit his head on the rocks; he fell into a coma and died.
- We Don't Suck Anymore: The new, safer Action Park (while it still used the name) was often marketed as having "all of the thrills, and none of the spills."