by Danny Miller
Often times, our discussions about the parks can be split into two different categories: large, corporate parks, and small, hometown, family-owned parks. Not so often do we talk about the parks that mysteriously disappear somewhere in between these groups. Parks like Elitch Gardens, Wild Adventures, and Darien Lake seem doomed to always be in this category, in some cases due to their former ownership by a large company (Six Flags in Darien Lake’s case) and failure to remain a player in the amusement industry.
As Darien Lake opened its gates for the 2014 season this past weekend, it did so without the debut of a signature attraction yet again. Last season, the park opened Blast Off, an S&S launch tower that is a welcomed addition with the absence of a drop ride, but is not the headliner that will boost (no pun intended) attendance significantly. The year before, it was a new kids area that saw three new rides come in, but again, no major attractions were added. Since the Six Flags days, the focus has been primarily the waterpark. You have to go back to 2008, the second season removed from the Six Flags era, to find the most recent coaster installation, MotoCoaster. At the time, this ride was actually running in Italy as a prototype as Zamperla’s first try at the style. Regardless, it is hardly a headliner despite being the second-best coaster in the park arguably.
Prior to MotoCoaster, you actually have to go all the way back prior to the turn of the century in 1999 when Superman: Ride of Steel (now just Ride of Steel) came to the park as the first-ever Intamin hyper coaster. It marked the fourth coaster in four years for the park under Six Flags (Premier Parks at the time). It’s hard to believe that the second-oldest coaster in the park is celebrating its sixteenth season this year, but it’s reflective of the slim number of additions the park has seen in the last decade. I’m not sure if the park owns it still, and if so it’s probably not in good enough shape to assemble anyway, but the Intamin stand-up coaster from Six Flags AstroWorld still sits across the street in a pile as it has since 2006. Even assembling that ride somewhere in the park would be a nice change of pace.
Regardless of how good the existing rides are, the park just has an overall stagnant feel to it. I first visited the park in 2011, and despite being just twenty minutes away last summer, I could count on one hand how many times I visited, while I made three trips to Cedar Point and three to Knoebels, parks considerably farther from my home away from home in Buffalo. It actually reminds me much of Universal’s Islands of Adventure up until the Harry Potter additions. The park literally stayed almost exactly the same for over a decade prior to the Wizarding World coming. If Darien Lake has something along those lines planned, then maybe it won’t be so bad.
But believe it or not, I write today not to bash the park, but actually to encourage fans of the park and locals that may feel the same way I do about the lack of excitement when it comes to adding new things. Most people are aware of the fact that Predator, the park’s lone wooden coaster, is not exactly the smoothest ride in the world. While I enjoy it and it is far from the worst coaster I’ve ever ridden, there are more complaints than complements heard when getting off the ride. That combined with the success of Rocky Mountain Construction’s looping wooden coasters (at least so far) and surveys sent out last season have fans pointing at Predator as the next candidate for a refurbishment, but maybe instead of transformation to a steel coaster, as a major overhaul to a wood coaster with inversions. The aforementioned survey sent to season pass holders (myself included), mentioned that the new ride may be called Lake Monster.
Whether it is Rocky Mountain, Great Coasters, or The Gravity Group that would be summoned for the project remains to be seen, but with Herschend still running the park for now, it would make sense for them to team up with Rocky Mountain again after the hit that was Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City. There are two new fads in the industry right now: wing coasters, and looping wooden coasters, and all signs point to the latter spreading like Wildfire (yes that’s a nod to Silver Dollar City and the new RMC coaster coming to Sweden). But as 2014 has arrived with not even so much as a whisper about the project, eager fans are left wondering if it is dead, or perhaps on the 2015 agenda.
It’s easy to see why 2015 would make sense. 2014 would have made it a last-minute scramble to put the project together, and with the talks of Herschend leaving the park, it may have been shelved until things were set more in stone. I think we could see it happen, and there are three good reasons why. First, Herschend loves Rocky Mountain Construction, and if they continue to operating Darien Lake, RMC would likely be a go-to company, especially for a wooden coaster. Second, Herschend likes to cycle through where the capital goes, and Darien Lake is certainly due for some major capital investment. Third, the park has an old, beat-up wooden coaster that many people don’t enjoy, so there is a need to fix it. It would not only be a major headlining attraction for the park to advertise for locals, but it would finally give enthusiasts a reason to go back to Western New York for something more than a credit run on their way to or from other parks.
It’s far from a done deal as far as I know, and until we hear more, I’m going to assume it’s not going to happen. After all, we’ve been down these roads before in other places where rumors just seem to never come to fruition and we’re all left disappointed. Be forewarned though, that if Darien Lake has something up their sleeves for 2015, they may just have some sort of creature lurking in the near future that will make quite a splash in the amusement industry.