We took a break from our long trip back home by paying a visit to Clementon Park and Splash World in Clementon, NJ, one of the oldest parks in the U.S. The pandemic brought havoc upon the entire amusement industry, but smaller parks that operate on a tight budget were heavily affected. Privately owned for much of its existence since 1907, Clementon was purchased by Premier Parks in 2011. Premier was the same company that had purchased the entire Six Flags chain back in 2000, only to sell it several years later. Apparently, Premier ran Clementon into the ground. Saddled with millions in debt, the park went on the auction block. It seemed certain that the bulldozers would soon be arriving and Clementon would be consigned to history.
Enter Gene Staples, a Chicago businessman who in 2020 came to the rescue of Indiana Beach, another classic family amusement park that was about to be permanently shuttered. He bought Clementon lock, stock and barrel in the spring of 2021, with the intention of having it operational for the summer season.
So that's where Karen and I headed, to patronize a classic small park that was getting back on its feet. The large sign was easy to spot, as were the large colorful water slides. The parking lot was surprisingly small, hinting at its trolley park origins. (When you took a trolley to the park, no cars needed parking.) I had purchased our tickets online, and our "senior" entry was just $19.99 each. There was a young kid at the entry gate who scanned my phone (after having me turn up the brightness) and we strolled onto the midway. To the left was the Larson Ring of Fire and a Ferris wheel. Beside them was a side midway that led to a rest room. To the right was the expanse of the Splash World water park, an area larger than the amusement park itself. In front of that area was Thunder Drop, their drop tower. Beyond that, the Goblet Toss and Ring Toss games straddled each side of the main midway. And just past that on the right was a bright blue retro semi-circular building selling cotton candy and popcorn.
Continuing down the midway, on the left was the station for the CP Huntington train. I was looking forward to this, but as we approached the empty station it was obvious that although all the shiny red and white train cars were there, the engine was missing. There were a few more game booths further down the midway, followed by Guest Services on the left and Funnel Cakes/Pizza on the right, ending at the Flying Pharoah swing ride where there was a crane; the ride had yet to be completely assembled.
The midway branched off to the left after that, where there were three rides operating: Samba tower (a balloon ride), a Zamperla Kite Flyer that wasn't even listed as one of the park's rides, and finally a Zamperla Dragon coaster. To the right of that was a large pavilion containing six kiddie rides. It looked as if you could normally walk through the pavilion and emerge on another part of the midway, but it had been blocked off.
Doubling back from that section and continuing down the main midway, the park's whimsical fiberglass carousel was on the right. A little further down from that on the opposite side was Carousel Gifts, which was attached to a large eaterie that was closed. Across from the eatery was a collection of dining tables under a large tent. The by now disappointing-but-familiar pattern continued as we reached the end of the midway, where there was the park's impressive yet inoperative King Neptune's Revenge flume ride next to an as-yet unassembled Tilt-a-Whirl. And at the very back of the park was the tall and impressive lift hill, drop and twisting second hill of the park's signature wooden roller coaster, Hellcat. The queue line was open, leading to the long set of stairs that climbed up to the station. I could see a blue tarp in the station flapping in the breeze. But since the queue was opened, I climbed the stairs. But no one was around. It was then that I noticed that a lot of coaster's track lamination appeared to be missing. So I climbed back down the stairs.
Heading back toward the entrance, there was a Scrambler and pirate ship ride, with a path that led to Splash World and the park's big wave pool and water play area. And that was it. Since there was no other food concession operating in the park, Karen and I went to the funnel cake stand, which also had a banner advertising Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas. I approached the two attendants there. No pizzas were under the warmers and I had no idea whether this was yet another thing in the park that was inoperative. So I asked the attendants if they were actually selling pizza, and they eagerly affirmed that they were. So I ordered two personal cheese pizzas. It must have been their first sale of the day. They got the pizzas out of the freezer and placed them on the oven's slow-moving conveyor. After about ten minutes, we had our pizzas plus drinks. They were slightly blackened on top and probably could have moved through the oven faster. We walked over to that large tent by the closed eatery. I saw one of the staff members walking over to the eatery, so I asked him about the coaster. He said that the previous owners had left the park pretty much in a shambles, and they had a lot of repair work to do. The coaster wouldn't open until the next season. He said many of the rides, like the train and the flume, were working but the park was waiting for the state inspector to arrive to give them the green light. The inspector was due to arrive the next week. So if we had come just a week later, there might have been more to do in the park.
The pizza was actually quite good. My artifical lemonade was okay, and Karen had a Diet Pepsi. After we finished our meal, I walked back over to the coaster's queue line to see if I could get a picture of the station, but the queue had been blocked off. I noticed there was a "fresh squeezed" lemonade stand in the water park, so I headed over to it. But it wasn't quite what I expected. They had their lemon concoction in a repurposed slushy machine. I was thirsty, though, so I ordered one for six dollars. I don't know why they called it fresh squeezed, because no lemons were harmed in the process. The drink tasted a bit off, with an odd chemical flavor. The Pepsi version of lemonade tasted better. After that, I filmed a walk-thru of the park. I went to the gift shop and purchased a hoodie shirt and then we called it a day.
Obviously, there's still a lot of work left to do at Clementon. But I'm glad that the park was saved. Focusing on the water park first was a smart move, since there's currently a lot more for guests to do there than in the amusement park. While I was disappointed that the three rides I wanted to experience weren't operating, I'm sure that I'll have a chance to ride them in the future. The park staff seemed really friendly and happy to be there. The clerk in the gift shop told us how she'd been coming to the park as a child and had been working there for nearly a decade. So the park definitely has meaning for the community. And that's really what parks like Clementon are all about: making fond memories that are handed down from generation to generation. I wish them well and hope they continue for another hundred years and beyond.
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