Lake Compounce, June 13, 2008

Text and images copyright Jay Ducharme 2008

Karen and I made our first trip to Lake Compounce in two years. We got season passes, since we always enjoyed this park more than nearby Six Flags. This would be the final season of ownership by the Kennywood group. The park had added a new ride, Zoomers, the previous year. For this season the major investment was a complete re-tracking of their huge wood coaster Boulder Dash.

The entrance still struck me as one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. It perfectly captured the essense of a traditional amusement park. The white lift hill of the Wildcat coaster formed the backdrop. In front of that was Main Street, a brightly colored row of concessions that appeared to have been built in the 1800s. In front of that was the ornate entrance gate. And in the middle of the entrance plaza was a large raised circular flower bed with a cheery carousel horse in the middle. It was about 11:00 and there were lots of people milling about. In a few minutes, we had our season passes processed and walked onto Main Street. We were hungry, so the first order of business was to get some Potato Patch french fries from the nearby stand. As usual they were really tasty and hit the spot.

We headed in a counter-clockwise progression around the park. The Zoomerang coaster had been given a new coat of paint. The color scheme was a bit unusual (purple track with an aqua structure) but it looked really nice. The huge waterfall below the Pirate ride was running full blast and looked impressive. At the far end of that stretch of midway was Zoomer's Gas N' Go, a very similar ride to the Cadillac cars at Great Escape. It wasn't like an antique car ride, where you had to actually depress a pedal. The electric cars were completely automatic. Very little of the ride was visible from the loading station. The track ran along the hillside opposite the Zoomerang. It was nicely themed with a sort of 1950s look. There were a few humorous surprises along the route, plus a tunnel. Zoomer's was a perfect addition for the park, a good family ride that was fun and nicely landscaped.

One of my favorite flumes, Saw Mill Plunge, was down for the day. That was a shame because it was pretty hot out. Next to it was Thunder and Lightning, the S&S Screamin' Swings. Only one of the swings was operating, and it seemed to take forever to load it. But once it got going, the riders seemed to have a great time. We walked on by. The Enterprise had been given a facelift a few years back and looked good in gleaming copper.

We walked over to Boulder Dash. This remarkable coaster was always good, but for one reason or another it was just shy of great. One reason was that in recent years it had begun to ride pretty rough. But the main reason was the ending of the ride. Although the coaster picked up speed continuously all the way to the brakes -- an amazing achievement in itself -- the home stretch was basically a set of repeating bunny hops that was punctuated by a long stretch of trick track, a somewhat flat run where the track tilted left then right. The trick track that Custom Coasters had created for Shivering Timbers at Michigan's Adventure worked beautifully. But for some reason, the stretch Custom Coasters created on Boulder Dash never lived up to its potential. It was basically a long flat section that felt like a let-down. I had heard that when Great Coasters International re-tracked the coaster, they also redesigned the end of the ride. Karen and I were eager to find out what they did.

There was a long line for the front seat, but it moved fairly quickly. Karen noticed that the train colors had changed; they used to be blue and red, but the red had been replaced by a green train. After about fifteen minutes, we were seated. After eight years, the lift hill area had matured nicely. The chain dragged us up into a lush forested area. We turned the corner at the top of the hill and then plunged back down toward the station. The ride was definitely smoother, but it hadn't lost any of its force. We were flung up out of our seats and thrown to the right on the sharp hill and turn that followed. The coaster was a non-stop adrenaline rush, tossing us one way and then the other. There was only the slightest let-up at the top of the turnaround, and then we were blasting back along the bouncing route back to the station. As we neared the north trolley station, we were thrown up and out of our seats one--two--three times in rapid succession, then plunged down one of the longest drops on the ride and then flew up and into the brakes. Everyone on the train was clapping and cheering.

That was what Boulder Dash had been missing all those years -- a dynamic finish. Now it had one. The triple-up was a simple change, but GCI had taken an otherwise anti-climactic section of track and made it surprising and fun. The coaster was comfortable and re-rideable, but it was also intense. Like Waldameer's new Ravine Flyer II, Boulder Dash successfully managed to be a family thriller.

Karen and I left the ride smiling and continued walking south down the midway. The nearby gift shop had some new apparel, and I was happy to see that there were new Boulder Dash shirts with fresh designs. A little further down the midway, the Carousel grill was still serving veggie burgers, a welcome addition to the usual park food. The old carousel still looked great and the band organ sounded strong and precise. Nearby was a tempting familiar smell that I couldn't pass up. I purchased a bag of honey-roasted cashews, and Karen got a bag of pecans. We wandered as we munched, passing by the crowded waterpark. We circled around the lazy river and up toward the trolley station. There was Boulder Dash's new triple-up. I had to look at it for a while to make sure I was seeing it correctly. It didn't look like much, but it sure packed a whallop when we rode it. We watched a train fly through it, and sure enough people were popping out of their seats.

Karen noticed that the beautiful swan boats that used to float on the lake were gone. The Mark Twain paddlewheeler was gone as well. I noticed a small platform far off down the north end of the lake. It appeared to be fenced off with an orange ring. We couldn't make out what it was. I asked a nearby security guard. He told us it was a golf green. It was a game, located next to the south trolley station snack bar on a previously unused piece of land. The challenge was tempting: you got 3 balls for $5, plus one practice ball. If you got your shot to stay on the green, you would win a large prize. If you got a hole in one, you would win four (!) season passes. So I gave it a try. I was a surprisingly terrible golfer. I managed to hit one way past the orange border, but none of my shots even came close to the green. To make matters worse, the green was slanted down toward the tee. Another guy stepped up to the tee and seemed to know what he was doing. He hit one into the water, but then both of his next shots landed squarely on the green. He walked away with two big prizes.

Karen and I were getting warm, and there was no better way to cool off than on Thunder Rapids. It was a fairly long wait, but most of the queue was under cover. The giant rock at the far end of the ride was once again spraying water down onto the unsuspecting riders. We ended up in a raft with a group of children, who had a great time. Karen and I got mildly wet, but the kids got drenched. It was a refreshing break.

Our traditional way of drying off was to take the half-hour trip on Lake Compounce's amazing Sky Ride. It was always a great way to unwind. The trip was peaceful, with turkey buzzards flying only a few feet away from us. It also offered spectacular vistas of the surrounding valley.

As we left the Sky Ride, the trolley had just pulled in to the south station. But Karen and I decided to take a more leisurely trip, so we walked to the far southern end of the park to catch the train. The engine, a standard Chance C.P. Huntington, looked brand new. Soon we were on our way alongside the lake. The park looked so serene reflected in the still water.

We walked back down the midway and past the colorful kiddieland, which had been eradicated of Garfield references. There were beautiful plantings everywhere. Then we walked up by Ghost Hunt, which had a sizeable crowd. It was enjoyable just to be in the park, absorbing the atmosphere. We felt no pressure to ride everything we saw.

We decided to have dinner and were torn between the veggie burger or one of the park's delicious pizzas. The pizzas won out. We ordered a whole cheese, since they were going to have to make one anyway to get us a slice. I don't know what it was about the thin crust they've always used, but it was really delicious. We sat on the deck of the Crok Pot, overlooking the lazy river, staring out at the expanse of blue water. We ended up with a few pieces of pizza left. There were two teenage boys behind us, and Karen suggested giving the rest of our food to them. They were surprised and delighted when I handed them the box.

By then it was about 4:30, and we decided to head home. We passed by the sign that Kennywood erected, declaring the park the oldest in the country. I wondered what would become of the park under new management. As with Kennywood, I hoped the new owners recognized what made these places so appealing. It wasn't the rides. It wasn't the food. It wasn't the entertainment. It was the whole experience. We felt relaxed there, and we could pick and choose between any number of rides that we enjoyed.

The park had a new exit -- through the gift shop, which had been reconfigured. There were some stunning new Boulder Dash ornaments. We bought two, and also picked up two of the new t-shirts. We had another wonderful time at Lake Compounce, and I'm glad we got season passes. Boulder Dash was amazing before, but it had been transformed into a truly great ride. We'll be returning for more exhilarating (and relaxing) fun!

Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions