Michigan's Adventure
August, 2001

The final leg of our journey brought us to the finest campground that we stayed at: Lake Sch-Nepp-A-Ho, just down the road from Michigan's Adventure. We had a spacious, quiet site on the lake. The ground was soft and level for a change. The weather had mercifully moderated. At night it was downright chilly.

On Wednesday morning we headed for the park. I had high expectations; it had just been purchased by the owners of Cedar Point. It was also home to Shivering Timbers, a gigantic wood coaster that was receiving rave reviews. Approaching it was an awe-inspiring experience for a coaster-lover: the long parking lot gave a spectacular view of that massive coaster. The repetitive camelback hills were delightful to look at. I hadn't seen a coaster like that since Mountain Park's much smaller Mountain Flyer.

The entrance to the park itself looked odd, sort of like cheap beachfront property. The buildings were white stone with dark blue roofs and natural wood trim. There was only a tiny sign at the entrance stating the name of the park. I paid for our $20 tickets and we walked through the entrance. There was the back of a building in front of us. We turned right down an alleyway past some lockers and then turned left. There were people from an outing and some other patrons waiting around, but not a huge crowd. In a few minutes, the guards stepped back and let the people rush onto the midway. People ran for Shivering Timbers.

The layout of the park was strange, basically an "L" shape dead-ending at each point and wrapping around a large pond. There was a tremendous amount of empty space. There would be a ride, then a vacant lot the size of an apartment building, then another ride. It was almost as if they started with too big a piece of land. There were also many overflowing garbage cans (from the previous day, I guess). The park had only sixteen adult rides (!), five of which were roller coasters. There was also an additional kiddie coaster, making six coasters in that small park!

We headed for Shivering Timbers with everyone else. It was a long walk, and by the time we got there the queue was full. That was another thing that puzzled me: all the queue lines in this park were really short. Didn't they expect any crowds? Lines for most rides spilled out onto the midway haphazardly. Luckily, the park was running two trains and our wait was only about a half-hour for the front seat. I enjoyed watching the train come barreling through the helix and back into the station. The PTC train seats were a little tight. (Or maybe I needed to lose weight. The guy at the weight-guessing booth pegged me at 210.)

Timbers had the distinction of being my 100th coaster ridden. I'd heard that the height of this coaster was 125 feet, but the ride ops kept saying it was 146 feet high. Regardless of the height, the ride was remarkably fast even over the camelbacks, which gave nice floating airtime. I really liked the trick- track, which produced a nice jog to the left and right. It was much more effective than the similar stretch on Boulder Dash. The helix was very powerful. Overall, I really enjoyed this ride. My only gripes (I always have some): the hill bottoms were very rough. Even in the front seat, the train shook badly. Was this how all CCI coasters aged? Also, the seat belts were wildly uneven. In the front seat we had no trouble with them. But for our third ride, my son and I sat in the first seat of the second car. I could barely buckle my seat belt, and my son couldn't even make his fit partly around his waist. They were plainly too short for anyone but a child. I mentioned this to a ride attendant who told us that if we couldn't buckle the belts, we couldn't ride. I asked if we could get back in line and wait for the front seat. The ride attendant offered us a seat in the fourth car. I explained that because of my neck I needed to sit toward the front of the train. The ride attendant said we had to take the seat they offered us or we had to leave (after we had waited three-quarters-of-an-hour in line). So we simply left and didn't return.

Tucked behind Shivering Timbers was a large circus tent. We wandered inside. A show was about to begin. So we watched a pretty standard circus. (I think it was done by the Hanneford chain.) Then we were getting a bit hungry and thirsty. There was a tiny food booth not far from Timbers, but all they had there were hot dogs and Coke.

So we lined up for Wolverine Wildcat. This was another big wood coaster, designed by Curtis Summers and Built by Charles Dinn, so I expected it to be rough and it was. (Timbers was built by Dinn's daughter.) My son got a splitting headache from it. I was surprised by the double-up/double-down section: it was really potent and slammed me up into the lap bar. And that was in the middle of the train! My main gripe with this coaster was the queuing: I had to take whatever seat I happened to get. The station could easily have accommodated any-seat queuing just like Shivering Timbers, but evidently the park wasn't yet interested in that with this ride. The coaster was beautifully placed along the pond and looked great from any point in the park. I'm sure the roughness would have been a bit less pronounced had I been able to ride in the front seat. I remember when the ride was built, a lot of enthusiasts were amazed that a small family-owned park would build such a big coaster. Then came Shivering Timbers....

Then we headed toward the other end of the park and Zach's Zoomer, also built by Summers and Dinn. It was a mini version of the Wildcat. The highlight of this coaster was the amazing laterals that I got on the turns. The seats were so tiny in the small PTC trains that we all had to ride separately. My knees collided with the front of the car, so I had to spread my legs apart. There was just a hint of airtime on the hills. The ride didn't have the kick of a Herb Schmeck junior (like Waldameer's Comet) but it was a fun little coaster. Kids certainly seemed to enjoy it.

I liked the viscious-looking mouse signs at the entrances and exits of the Arrow Mad Mouse at the front of the park. The ride itself sported an ugly blue track with yellow supports. The fiberglass mouse cars looked stylized and mean. The wheelbase was disconcertingly tiny. It didn't look large enough to support the car. When the car reached the top of the lift, it began the common back-and-forth-zigzagging mouse layout, but it seemed gentler than other Mad Mice. The turns weren't as violent and sharp. I thought it very odd that Arrow banked many of the turns. I mean, the whole point of a Mad Mouse is sudden frightening turns with strong laterals. There were none of those to be had on this ride. There was an interesting piece of trick-track at the end where the car sort of gently wobbled from side to side. I didn't really notice it while riding, but it looked cool when watching from the ground. My favorite Mouse was still the one at Idlewild, though. That thing knocked the wind out of me!

Those were the only coasters we rode. We didn't bother with the stock Arrow corkscrew nor the Chance Big Dipper kiddie ride. The only other ride we tried was the peculiar Arrow flume that stood about thirty feet high in the middle of a well-manicured lawn. It wasn't very thrilling and it wasn't at all wet. But it was certainly tall. I could see how this would have worked really well in a densely forested area. But out in the open it looked too industrial.

The new Mammoth Falls shoot-the-chutes ride produced a respectable splash, but it was really out-of-the-way, placed far off at the other end of the pond (where there was nothing else but a dead end). My son and I played a game of Adventure Golf on the park's picturesque new course. There was a large assortment of kiddie rides, but they didn't seem to get a lot of use. By mid-afternoon the park was crowded, and lines for almost all the rides were filling the midway. One of the food booth attendants commented how the park was never this crowded on a Wednesday.

Speaking of food booths -- where were they? The entire park had just four places to eat, one of which was an ice cream stand. All of them were carryout windows. I'm vegetarian, and it's hard enough finding park food I can eat. But this place made it impossible: the pre-made pizzas (which were the offerings at two of the stands) were basically sauce and pepperoni on a bagel. There was no cheese pizza! There were no salads. The only subs they served were pre-made with ham and turkey! The only items I could eat were french fries, chips and ice cream. I later mentioned this to the head of the food department, and she said she'd bring that up at the park's winter meeting. I strongly suggested a couple of cheese-on-a-stick stands.

Unfortunately, this park was another disappointment on a trip filled with high expectations. There was so little here, and that little bit was spread out making it hard to get to anything. And there was so much that was just out in the open, as if a forest had been clear-cut to build the park. It needed more personality; everything seemed so sterile. I know Cedar Fair had just bought Michigan's Adventure, and I'm sure they had plans for it. It looked like an antique car ride would soon be next to Zach's Zoomer. But it also looked like they had their work cut out for them. (Incidentally, the area occupied by the Chance Chaos, where an accident had occurred earlier in the season, was completely boarded up.) Shivering Timbers was the biggest asset the park had, and I hoped that the new management would treat it well in the future.

The next day we left Muskegon for Pennsylvania's Conneaut Lake Park. Due to some problems on the road, the trip took a lot longer than I expected and we didn't arrive at the park until 8:30 at night, after it had closed. We checked into the Hotel Conneaut and were surprised to find a huge, stunning room that seemed preserved from a Fred Astaire movie. It was nice to have a soft bed and a roof over our heads after all those days camping. But it was sad that we wouldn't be able to experience the park.

I wandered around the quiet midway early the next morning and sighed. This was a really wonderful place. I was amazed that when I stood in front of the Blue Streak's station, I could see just a small portion of the coaster's lift hill and nothing else. The entire area was dense with trees. The park looked frozen in a long-ago era. It was my kind of park. I talked briefly with a park worker and he said that attendance had been strong that season. That was encouraging after hearing about the park's struggles for so many years. I stared longingly at the old dark ride and the rare Tumble Bug. I walked along the deserted paths next to the huge lake. I really wished I'd been there when it was open. A short while later we were back on the road, heading home.

Last year, we spent one week covering about a thousand miles traveling to six parks. This year, we covered over 2700 miles and five parks in two weeks. We got home exhausted. I was glad to have gone to parks we had never seen before, but the hectic pace didn't give us much time to really enjoy any of the places we were at. And that in turn probably colored my view of the parks. For the future, I think I'll cut down the number of parks we visit. Past trips were like a smorgasbord where I was gobbling down everything in sight as fast as I could. After a while, I suffered from severe indigestion. I liked riding coasters, but it was silly to dash from one to another so quickly that they all start blurring together in a haze of exhaustion. I wanted to have more time--and energy--to savor each one. In my younger days, I simply wanted to rack up a high number of coaster rides. But I guess I was mellowing and now simply wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of whatever park we were at. Perhaps a slower pace would contribute to more enjoyable vacations.

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