|Slogan||The Action is Back!|
|Location||Vernon, New Jersey, U.S.|
|Closed||September 2, 1996 (original Action Park)|
|Previous names||Mountain Creek Waterpark (1998-2013, 2016-present)|
Action Park is an amusement park located in Vernon, New Jersey, United States, on the grounds of the Mountain Creek ski resort. The park consists primarily of water-based attractions and originally opened to the public in 1978 under the ownership of Great American Recreation, who also owned the ski resort which at the time operated under the name Vernon Valley/Great Gorge.
The original Action Park was open until 1996 and featured three separate attraction areas: the Alpine Center (featuring an alpine slide), Motorworld, and Waterworld. The latter was one of the first modern American water parks. Many of its attractions were unique, attracting thrill-seekers from across the New York City metro area. The park's popularity went hand-in-hand with a reputation for poorly designed, unsafe rides; under-aged, under-trained, and often under-the-influence staff; intoxicated, unprepared visitors; and a consequently poor safety record. At least six people are known to have died as a result of mishaps on rides at the original park. It was given nicknames such as "Traction Park", "Accident Park", and "Class Action Park" by doctors at nearby hospitals due to the number of severely injured customers they treated. Little action was taken by state regulators despite a history of repeat violations. In its later years, personal injury lawsuits led to the closure of more and more rides, and eventually the entire park.
On February 9, 1998, Intrawest announced the purchase of the Action Park property along with the majority of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area (but not all of it, as some of the Great Gorge property was not included in the deal and became Crystal Springs Resort) and developable real estate lands GAR previously owned. After a massive overhaul, which included revamping rides and removing attractions deemed either outright unsafe or inappropriate relative to Intrawest's vision of the park, the waterpark was reopened as Mountain Creek Waterpark and operated under that name until 2013. With an increased emphasis on ride safety, the alpine slide and Motorworld areas were eliminated and some new water attractions were added.
In 2010, the whole Mountain Creek ski area and water park was sold to a group led by Eugene Mulvihill, the former owner of Great American Recreation and the owner of the adjacent Crystal Springs Resort. It was under the new ownership that the name of the water park was changed back to Action Park, with the park assuming that name when it opened for the 2014 season. In 2016, the Mountain Creek Park name was restored to the park, thus retiring the Action Park name again.
The park was created in 1978 when Great American Recreation (GAR), the new owners of the recently combined Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area, wanted to do something with the ski area during the off season. Two years earlier, in 1976, they had followed the trend of many other ski areas at the time and opened a 2,700-foot-long (820 m) alpine slide down very steep ski trails. Gradually, Waterworld and Motorworld came together at the base of the mountain to form one of North America's earliest modern water parks, which was originally called the Vernon Valley Summer Park. They started out with two water slides and a LOLA race car track in the summer of 1978, and then more waterslides and a small deep-water swimming pool the next year, as well as tennis courts and a softball field. Finally, Motorworld was carved out of the swampy areas the ski area owned across Route 94. Ultimately, the small park consisting of the alpine slide and two water slides evolved to a major destination with 75 rides (35 motorized, self-controlled rides and 40 water slides).
By the 1990s, the park was being advertised as the world's largest water park. Additionally, during the 1990s, up through the park's final season, and into 1997, Action Park maintained a website at the domain actionpark.com, on which visitors could find information about rides, directions to the park, and lodging, and even enter a lottery for a chance to win park tickets.
Action Park's most successful years were the mid-1980s. Most rides were still open, and the park's later reputation for danger had not yet developed. In 1982, the deaths of two visitors within a week of each other and ensuing permanent closure of one ride took place, but that hardly dampened the flow of crowds. The park's fortunes began to turn with two deaths in summer 1984 and the legal and financial problems that stemmed from the lawsuits. A state investigation of improprieties in the leasing of state land to the park led to a 110-count grand jury indictment against the nine related companies that ran it and their executives for operating an unauthorized insurance company. Many took pretrial intervention to avoid prosecution; head Eugene Mulvihill pleaded guilty that November to five insurance fraud-related charges. Still, attendance remained high and the park remained profitable, at least on paper.
The park entertained over one million visitors per year, with as many as 12,000 coming on some of the busiest weekends. Park officials said this made the injury and death rate statistically insignificant. Nevertheless, the director of the emergency room at a nearby hospital said they treated from five to ten victims of park accidents on some of the busiest days, and the park eventually bought the township of Vernon extra ambulances to keep up with the volume. In September 1989, Great American Recreation negotiated a deal with International Broadcasting Corporation that would result in the sale of Vernon Valley-Great Gorge, and Action Park, for $50 million. IBC, however, backed out of the deal, feeling the site was not suitable for their needs upon further inspections of the properties.
In September 1991, Great American Recreation attempted to petition the Vernon Township Committee to put a referendum on the November ballot that, if passed, would have legalized the operation of games of skill and chance at Action Park. On September 23, the petition was rejected by the committee because only 643 of the 937 signatures on the petition came from registered voters. 
A few rides were closed and dismantled due to costly settlements and rising insurance premiums in the 1990s, and at last the park's attendance began to suffer as the recession early in that decade reduced visitation. In early 1995, GAR operated Vernon Valley-Great Gorge with no liability insurance. New Jersey did not require liability insurance, and GAR found it more economical to go to court than purchase liability insurance since they relied on their own self-insurance. GAR purchased liability insurance from Evanston Insurance Co in May of that year to cover Action Park, as well as Vernon Valley-Great Gorge's skiing facilities.
As 1995 progressed, GAR's financial woes continued to accumulate. First Fidelity Bank, who lent $19 million to GAR, and some 15 other connected corporations, filed suit against them in an effort to begin the process of foreclosing on the debt owed to them. Law firms owed money for services rendered between 1991 and 1993 also began filing suit. As November rolled around, GAR negotiated a deal with Noramco Capital Corp, and the Praedium Fund of CS First Boston, in which they would purchase the debt owed to First Fidelity, temporarily fending off an impending foreclosure.
In February 1996, the creditors who had taken on GAR's debt petitioned to force GAR into bankruptcy over the $14 million owed by the struggling company. GAR filed for Chapter 11 protection that following March, but remained optimistic that they could regain their financial footing "within a year."
Action Park closed at the end of the season as usual on Labor Day, September 2, 1996. Going into 1997, GAR remained optimistic that Action Park would open as expected on June 14, in spite of massive layoffs that occurred at the end of the ski season. The opening date was pushed back to June 28, then mid July. On June 25, 1997, GAR announced the cessation of all its operations, including Action Park.
Following the demise of GAR in 1997, Praedium Recovery Fund purchased the Vernon Valley-Great Gorge resort, and Action Park, for $10 million. The investment group put the company Angel Projects in charge of managing the resort, and aimed to pump in some $20 million to upgrade the ski resort's equipment, trails, and to remodel the water park.
Canadian park operator Intrawest purchased the park, and neighboring Vernon Valley ski area in February 1998. The Waterworld section of Action Park was revamped, and then reopened for the 1998 season as Mountain Creek. The owners, aware of the image problems created during the Action Park era, sought to differentiate themselves from their predecessors. By this time, Mountain Creek was no longer the state's largest waterpark, nor was it the draw that it was during its original heyday, as other waterparks built around the region have since divided the market. Since Intrawest was a ski resort corporation, the water park would be leased out to Palace Entertainment after the first couple of years.
As a result of problems at the original Action Park, New Jersey toughened its amusement regulations. During the Mountain Creek era, many of the rides built during the heyday of Action Park boasted large bilingual signs advising patrons of just what the ride entails, how deep the water is in metric and US customary units, the age it is most appropriate for, and the state regulatory ID numbers. Safety rules are strictly enforced at the new park, although alcohol is still available.
In 2010, Intrawest, which ended up in bankruptcy proceedings itself as a result of a leveraged buyout, sold both the Mountain Creek ski resort and the water park to the owners of Crystal Springs Resort. The water park would remain under lease to Palace Entertainment until 2011, when the owners of the resort bought out the operating lease to the water park. This returned control of the former Action Park property, as well as the entire former Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area, to the Mulvihill family as they had retained ownership of the ski area that was renamed Crystal Springs following GAR's bankruptcy.
In April 2014, the Mulvihill family changed the name of Mountain Creek back to Action Park. The domains "actionparknj.com" and "actionpark.com" were purchased by Mountain Creek. Initially, the actionparknj.com URL was used to forward visitors to "waterpark.mountaincreek.com", but now forwards people to actionpark.com, where the water park's website now resides. The park's former web address, waterpark.mountaincreek.com, also forwards visitors to actionpark.com. In 2016, Action Park was renamed back to Mountain Creek Waterpark due to it not "connecting with those under age 34", as Bill Benneyan, president of Mountain Creek Resort stated. In an article discussing the Kaufman brothers' plans for the resort, it was also mentioned that they have a desire to steer away from the Action Park branding, past reputation, and make the park (as well as the resort) more family focused.
This attraction, which was loosely based on the TV series American Gladiators, opened in 1992. It allowed patrons to compete against other patrons in an obstacle course, and against so-called "Action Park Gladiators" in jousting matches. Former bodybuilders Michael and Vince Mancuso designed and ran the attraction. The "Action Park Gladiators" that patrons had to compete against in the jousting matches were picked by scouting local gyms. Over the course of the day, there were 3 shows. One at 1:00 PM, the second at 4:00PM, and the last at 6:00 PM, where the people with the fastest obstacle course times of the day were brought back to compete against each other. This attraction had been removed from the park by 1995 and replaced with a beach volleyball court.
Action Park's alpine slide descended the mountain roughly below one of the ski area's chairlifts, resulting in much verbal harassment and sometimes spitting from passengers going up for their turn, who would often be entertained by the accidents they witnessed while at the same time hoping to avoid similar fates.
The tracks were made of concrete and fiberglass, which led to numerous serious abrasions on riders who took even mild spills. The tendency of some to ride in bathing suits so they could go on to Waterworld attractions afterward made this problem worse.
The sleds were a large factor in the injuries. A stick that was supposed to control speed led, in practice, to just two options on the infrequently maintained vehicles: extremely slow, and a speed described by one former employee as "death awaits".
This slide led to the first fatality at the park, a head injury suffered in 1980 by an employee whose sled ran off the track; he then fell down a large embankment and hit his head on a rock, which killed him. Hay bales at the curves were meant to cushion the impact of those whose sleds jumped the track (a frequent occurrence), but did not always do so effectively. According to state records, in 1984 and 1985 the alpine slide produced 14 fractures and 26 head injuries. While park officials regularly asserted its safety, saying that 90-year-old grandmothers could and did ride it, in the early years of the park the slide was responsible for the bulk of the accidents, injuries, lawsuits, and state citations for safety violations.
When Intrawest took over the park and renamed it Mountain Creek in spring 1998, they announced the slide would remain open for one final season. Riders were required to wear helmets and kneepads. The last day of the slide's operation was September 6 of that year, the day before the park closed for the season, as that year's Labor Day was rainy and the slide had to be closed.
The tracks were torn out afterwards, but the route can still be seen from the gondola that replaced the chairlift. The bike park route travels down the site, and crosses over many wooden footbridges that crossed over the Alpine Slide tracks. Mountain Creek recently introduced an alpine coaster, which combines elements of the Alpine slide and a roller coaster.
In 1991, Action Park opened up a 70-foot-tall (21 m), two-station bungee jumping tower near the alpine slide off which patrons could jump for a fee. The next summer, the tower was upgraded to four jumping stations. The guests could not go very far, however, and were tethered to a weight that prevented them from bouncing back up to the top of the tower. This attraction closed with the original Action Park in 1996.
A skateboard park briefly existed, near the ski area's ski school building, but closed due to poor design after a season. Bowls were separated by pavement, which in many cases did not meet the edges smoothly. Former park employee Tom Fergus was quoted in the magazine Weird NJ saying that the "skate park was responsible for so many injuries we covered it up with dirt and pretended it never existed".
The Transmobile was a monorail that would take riders from the base lodge, across Rt. 94 to the Cobblestone Village complex & Old Mill Mini Golf course, then to the Fest Haus Tents in Motorworld. Riders would ride sideways in cars built for 2 people. Each stop had 2 stations, one for riders heading towards the Alpine Center, and one for people heading to the Motorworld part of the park. Rides to / from the Alpine Center were one way, and riders were not allowed to stay on the ride, and travel round-trip without getting off at either end. This restriction sometimes caused conflicts between park staff, and riders who either did not understand - or did not want to follow the rules.
When Intrawest took over the park in 1998, and began overhauling the water park, the Transmobile was dismantled. For many years afterwards, pieces of the Transmobile remained. The Cobblestone Village station remains in place as well. The right of way through which the Transmobile traveled past the Mini Golf course, and under part of the Cobblestone Village complex, remains unobstructed to this day.
The park also had a section called Motorworld. It had powered vehicles and boats on the west side of Route 94. These closed with Action Park in 1996. They have been replaced with a condominium housing development, a restaurant, and additional parking for the Mountain Creek ski resort. Several types of vehicles were used in this area. Paintball was offered in this area for a fee.
Water-based attractions made up half of the park's rides and accounted for the greatest share of its casualty count. Mountain Creek Waterpark and its currently revived Action Park still operates some of these attractions. In addition, there was also a miniature golf course as well as standard pools and rides for children. These were sometimes smaller, safer versions of the park's main attractions.
In the mid-1980s GAR built an enclosed water slide, not unusual for that time; in fact, the park already had several such slides. On this one, however, they decided to build a complete vertical loop at the end, similar to that of a roller coaster. The resulting slide, called the Cannonball Loop, was so intimidating, that employees have reported they were offered a hundred dollars to test it. Fergus, who described himself as "one of the idiots" who took the offer, said, "$100 did not buy enough booze to drown out that memory."
The slide was opened for only one month in summer 1985 before it was closed at the order of the state's Advisory Board on Carnival Amusement Ride Safety, a highly unusual move at the time. One worker told a local newspaper that "there were too many bloody noses and back injuries" from riders, and it was widely rumored, and reported in Weird NJ, that some of the test dummies sent down before it opened had been dismembered and decapitated. A rider also reportedly got stuck at the top of the loop due to insufficient water pressure, and a hatch had to be installed at the bottom of the slope to allow for future extractions.
The ride supposedly reopened a few more times over the years. In the summers of 1995 and 1996, it was opened for several days before further injuries forced its permanent shutdown.
Those who rode the Cannonball Loop have said that more safety measures were taken than was otherwise common at the park. Riders were weighed, hosed down with cold water, instructed to remove jewelry, and then carefully instructed in how they had to position their bodies to complete the ride. For the remainder of the park's existence, Cannonball Loop remained visible near the entrance of Waterworld. It was dismantled shortly after the park closed.
In 2014, video footage that appeared to show riders going down the Cannonball Loop was unearthed and published online.
The Aerodium is a skydiving simulator wind tunnel invented in Germany in 1984. In 1987, Action Park built and opened their own Aerodium in the Waterworld section of the park, becoming the first American amusement park to open an Aerodium. The attraction was operated by Aerodium Inc, who would act as a concessionaire for the park through 1997. Stadium seating encircled the perimeter of the Aerodium, allowing friends and spectators to watch riders fly. Riders wearing a special skydiving suit, helmet, and earplugs would join the bodyflight instructor one by one on a trampoline-like netting directly over the fan. The instructor would grab each rider's wrists and guide the rider to fall forward, allowing the fan to lift the rider skyward. After a few seconds of flight, the attendant operating the fan would cut the power, causing the rider to fall onto the air cushions surrounding the fan. Park guests' flights were limited to a maximum of 6 or 7 feet (2 m) above the ground, approximately a foot or two over the instructor's head. The Aerodium also caused severe injuries, for example, when a rider instinctively tried to break his fall by extending his arm, which caused shoulder dislocation, severed nerves, and near-permanent paralysis of the arm.
A range of factors contributed to accidents at the park, from the design and construction of the rides themselves to the makeup of both visitors and staff, and lax government oversight.
Action Park and its defenders often pointed out that it was one of the first water parks in the nation and thus pioneered ideas that were later widely copied. This meant that visitors were using rides that had not been tested through practical use for very long. Ride designers may have had insufficient training in physics or engineering. "They seemed to build rides," one attendee recalled, "not knowing how they would work, and [then let] people on them."
GAR, as its legal troubles would suggest, was accused of cutting corners to maximize its profits. For example, it was accused of building rides cheaply, sporadically maintaining many of them, and failing to renovate rides to take advantage of later safety improvements to its ideas made by other facilities. These practices may have taken place in a range of its operations, including customer safety (in the park's last year, it kept part of the ski area open despite being unable to obtain liability insurance).
The vast majority of workers at Action Park, at least the ones regularly seen by visitors, were teenagers. Jim DeSaye, a security director for the park, says he got that job at the age of 21, after having worked at the park for two years. His experience was not uncommon.
Most were underaged, undertrained, often under the influence and cared little for enforcing park rules and safety requirements. Height- and weight-based restrictions were often ignored.
Since it was closer and slightly cheaper than Six Flags Great Adventure, Action Park attracted many visitors from urban enclaves of the New York metropolitan area. Many of them were often from lower-income neighborhoods where they had few, if any, opportunities to swim, much less learn how. The park greatly overestimated these abilities, and this was a factor in many accidents as well as the drownings, according to park officials. DeSaye faults management's decision to broaden the customer base by advertising in Spanish-language media as contributing to the accident rate, since few employees spoke Spanish and no written information was made available in that language.
The staff's indifference to many of the park's own rules led to a similarly lawless culture among visitors, who generally liked the high level of control they had over their experience. Accidents were usually deemed by park employees to be the fault of the riders. A state official lamented that many water-slide accidents were due to guests who, in blatant violation of an explicitly posted rule, would often discard their mats midway down the slide and wait at a turn for their friends so they could go down together.
Since many rides routed their lines so that those waiting could see every previous rider, many played to the audience with risque and bawdy behavior when it did finally come to be their turn. The Tarzan Swing in particular was known for outbursts of foul language (not always planned) and exhibitionism as people jumped off the swing in full view of the whole line behind them.
The park also sold beer in many kiosks on the grounds, with similarly relaxed enforcement of the drinking age as with other restrictions in the park. Doctors treating the injured often reported that many of them were intoxicated.
Despite many citations for safety violations between 1979 and 1986, including allowing minors to operate some rides and failing to report accidents (which was unique among New Jersey's amusement parks), an investigation by the New Jersey Herald, Sussex County's main daily newspaper, later found that the park was fined only once. It was also unique in that department in that all other amusement parks were fined for first offenses--except Action Park. It asked if there was some sort of special relationship between GAR and the state.
Some of the state's regulations failed to adequately address the situation. After the 1987 drowning, it was reported that the Tidal Wave Pool was considered a pool by the state, not a ride. Under state regulations at the time, that meant that the company merely had to keep the water clean and make sure that certified lifeguards were on duty.
Six people are known to have died directly or indirectly from rides at Action Park:
Action Park was a cultural touchstone for many Generation X-ers who grew up in North and Central Jersey, as well as nearby locales in New York and Connecticut. A popular list of "You Know You're from New Jersey When ..." that circulates in email begins with, "You've been seriously injured at Action Park."
Some even credit the park for making them learn some difficult lessons. In 2000, one Matthew Callan recalled Action Park thus:
|"||Action Park made adults of a generation of Tri-State Area kids who strolled through its blood-stained gates, by teaching us the truth about life: it is not safe, you will get hurt a lot, and you'll ride all the way home burnt beyond belief.||"|
|"||Action Park was a true rite of passage for any New Jerseyan of my generation. When I get to talking about it with other Jerseyans, we share stories as if we are veterans who served in combat together. I suspect that many of us may have come closest to death on some of those rides up in Vernon Valley. I consider it a true shame that future generations will never know the terror of proving their grit at New Jersey's most dangerous amusement park.||"|
Action Park was the topic of the first episode of the Relay FM podcast Ungeniused in June 2016, which explores the legacy of the park, how unsafe it was, and why people continued to visit it.
The original version of the park's notoriety for its unsafe reputation inspired a film by Jackass star Johnny Knoxville; filming started in March 2017 and wrapped in June 2017. The film will be released under the title Action Point by Paramount Pictures on June 1, 2018.
An effort has begun to bring back "all of the thrills, and none of the spills" to the park. In the summer of 2014, the 100 feet (30 m) high Zero-G opened. Located on the tower for H2 OhNo, the Zero-G is a double-looping slide featuring 2 inclined loops.
For 2015 and beyond, plans for the park include a new lounge area, and pools near the former Kamikaze attraction, relocation of batting cages from their present location to near the Action Putts Miniature Golf Course, and the construction of a go-kart track by the same miniature golf course, on the site of the old festival tents. The go-kart track, however, will only be around for 1-2 years, as a proposed indoor water park hotel is currently planned for that same site.
Currently in development by Vancouver-based Sky Turtle Technologies is a ride called the Sky Caliber. In summer 2016, the Sky Caliber opened at the Action Park site. Unlike the original Cannonball Loop, riders will ride in bullet-shaped aluminum cages. The ride also features a considerably taller and steeper approach, as well as a teardrop shaped loop. Current indications are that the slide will be called "Cannonball Loop." The ride features a vertical drop, a teardrop-shaped loop, and a coffin-shaped cage riders will ride in. It also has an emergency hatch, like the original Cannonball Loop.
The world's longest water slide, a 2,130-foot (650 m) inflatable slide made in Waimauku, New Zealand, back in 2013, was installed at Action Park. Testing was scheduled to begin in early July 2015, with no opening date announced.
On April 14, 1980, Pocono Action Park Inc. was formed by Great American Recreation, which later opened Pocono Action Park and Motorworld. Located in the town of Tannersville, Pennsylvania, it had a Waterworld section with slides and tube rides, as well as a Motorworld section featuring many of the same racing themed attractions--including LOLA race cars and go-karts--as the Vernon park. By late 1991, the park was closed. The rides were torn down in stages, and The Crossings Premium Outlets was built over the location. Even after the park closed, however, Pocono Action Park Inc. continues to exist, and is listed as an active business.
In June 1984, Stony Point Recreation, a subsidiary of GAR, opened Action Mountain in Pine Hill, NJ. The park offered an alpine slide, go-karts, LOLA race cars, bumper boats, speed slides, tube slides, swimming pools, as well as a diving platform. By 1986, Stony Point Recreation had accumulated some $398,697 in back taxes owed to the town of Pine Hill, and in an effort to relieve the debt sold off the park. In 1999, the site was redeveloped into the Pine Hill Golf Course.