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From The Morning Call

December 24, 2006

Up in the air?

Old-style roller coaster fans hope the rumors are true and Dorney is planning a new wooden ride. Park officials aren't saying.

By Kurt Blumenau Of The Morning Call

Roller coaster enthusiast Jeff Putz says coaster fans like swapping scuttlebutt about new rides almost as much as they like riding what's out there now.

If that's true, then fans of Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom are relishing this off-season like a steep drop leading into a barrel roll. That's because the South Whitehall Township amusement park is rumored to be adding a new wooden coaster for the 2008 season a report that has had coaster aficionados buzzing for several months.

The claim, which surfaced in September on a theme-park fan site called Screamscape.com, has yet to be proven or debunked. Officials at Dorney and Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., Dorney's parent company, said they do not comment on rumors. Cedar Fair will not release its capital spending plans for 2008 until after the end of the 2007 summer season.

Lance Hart, who runs Screamscape.com in Charlotte, N.C., said he could not identify his confidential source for the rumor. Hart also said he has not received a reply from Dorney or Cedar Fair.

As coaster enthusiasts wait for firm information to emerge, they are debating the rumor. And both sides make plausible arguments.

Supporters say Cedar Fair, which owns 12 amusement parks and six water parks, has a history of copying successful rides among its properties. Its decision to build a new wooden coaster for the 2007 season at its Valleyfair park in Shakopee, Minn., could signal that other wooden coasters are coming to other parks.

Doubters point out that Dorney tore down a wooden coaster, Hercules, just four years ago. They also say Valleyfair was due for a major investment, more so than Dorney, which got a $13 million steel coaster called Hydra: The Revenge for the 2005 season.

Dorney typically announces a major new ride every four years, with smaller attractions added in other years. Hydra was Dorney's most recent major addition. It was preceded by two other coasters: Talon in 2001 and Steel Force in 1997. Based on that schedule, Dorney's next major new ride would be added in 2009.

Putz, the editor of another coaster-fan site called CoasterBuzz.com, isn't coming down on one side or the other yet.

''You could make a case either way,'' Putz, of Brunswick, Ohio, said. ''If you see survey marks and spray paint on sidewalks late in the 2007 season, then I think it's a safe bet that they'll announce a new ride of some sort.''

The main attraction of wooden coasters is their old-school feel, according to Pittsburgh-area coaster fan Katie Olszewski. Olszewski is editor in chief of another coaster site, Thrillnetwork.com.

Wooden tracks have ''a rickety old feel,'' while steel tracks ride as smoothly as glass, she said.

''Wooden roller coasters and steel roller coasters are just different feelings,'' she added. ''You get a little jostled, but in a very good way.''

Wooden coasters, while less common than they once were, are far from extinct. Amusement park buffs in Pennsylvania who want to get their jostle on still have plenty of wooden rides to choose from--including Dorney's ThunderHawk coaster, which dates to 1923.

Lakemont Park in Altoona is home to the world's oldest roller coaster, Leap-the-Dips, built in 1902 and restored in 1999. Knoebels Amusement Park & Resort in Elysburg, Northumberland County, has two wooden coasters, the Twister and the Phoenix. Hersheypark also has a pair, the Wildcat and the Lightning Racer.

Both Hersheypark rides were designed by Great Coasters International of Sunbury, Northumberland County. The company also designed Renegade, the new $6.5-million wooden coaster being built at Valleyfair. Renegade will stand 104 feet tall, feature 91 feet of drops and hit peak speeds of 52 mph, according to Cedar Fair.

If Renegade is a hit, Cedar Fair will likely want to add similar rides to other parks, Screamscape's Hart said. As proof, he points to the ''hypercoaster'' trend of the '90s, in which Cedar Fair installed similar 200-foot-tall steel coasters at four parks over a period of several years. Dorney Park's Steel Force was the third coaster in that series.

Hart also believes another wooden coaster would be ''a big hit'' for Dorney. He said another park, Holiday World in remote Santa Claus, Ind., has drawn big crowds of coaster buffs for its new The Voyage wooden coaster.

''Coaster enthusiasts have flocked to that park from around the world,'' he said.

But Olszewski, of Thrillnetwork, isn't so sure. She does not expect Dorney to get a wooden coaster for 2008, or any other year in the foreseeable future.

For one thing, wooden coasters cost more to maintain over the long term than steel coasters. Olszewski believes the removal of Hercules might signal that Cedar Fair is no longer willing to bear the maintenance budget of another wooden ride.

She also said Cedar Fair rarely installs back-to-back coasters unless one is at the company's flagship property, Cedar Point.

''Rumors are a very big thing in the amusement park industry,'' Olszewski added. ''They can be totally false, and some are dead-on.''

Other doubters on the Dorneyonline.com Web site raise concerns about noise, suggesting the park's neighbors might oppose a wooden coaster. Dorneyonline.com is an independent fan site devoted to Dorney Park. It is not affiliated with the park or Cedar Fair.

''I could see the local neighbors fighting a wooden coaster more than a sand-filled steel,'' a Dorneyonline user known as Steelforceguy wrote. ''They all know what Hercules sounded like, and how loud it was. There's not much you can do to quiet a wood coaster either.''

Putz of CoasterBuzz said said a new coaster at Dorney is ''not out of the question,'' but will depend on management's vision and direction for the park. Improvements to Dorney's water park might deliver a better return on investment, in terms of attracting families, he added. The park's new ride for next year will be a ''mat racer,'' a six-lane, open-air water slide.

''Coasters always bring in teens and thrill seekers, but you have to ask if the attendance improvement will be significant enough to justify the cost,'' he said. ''If I had to choose between teens and a family of four buying more hot dogs and sunscreen, I'd take the family.''

It's going to be a long time until the public knows Cedar Fair's real plans. Until then, it's likely to be a topic of conversation all next summer at Dorney--giving coaster buffs the pleasure of talking about future attractions and riding current rides at the same time.



Copyright © 2006, The Morning Call


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