NPF: AT ACTION PARK

I know I've been maintaining this site for a long time when I can no longer remember whether I've written about a given topic at some point. My memory tends to be terrifyingly detailed, but lately – either through old age or the sheer volume of posts – it has let me down on occasion. On Thursday I posted on Facebook about Action Park and referred everyone to an old NPF post about it. Turns out that post only exists in my mind. Somehow I have been at this for a decade without writing about Action Park. The mind boggles.

Action Park was a low-budget amusement park in New Jersey that combined water rides, go-karts, skiing, and other carnival-type attractions. It operated between 1978 through its heyday in the mid-80s and then sporadically until 1996. Action Park was notable for three things:

1. The extreme number of injuries (and deaths) its ramshackle attractions caused. At one point, the park had to buy the local government more ambulances to handle the flow of victims. I can't decide if I like the swimming pools "infested with snakes" or the "Alpine slide" made of concrete and fiberglass that was ridden with a brake-less sled.

2. The on-site sale of alcohol from the park's own microbrewery. So it was a park full of dangerous rides wherein the owners were actively trying to get you shitfaced.

3. The extreme laxness of the employees, who were low paid teenagers working summer jobs. The park had a "Logan's Run"-type atmosphere in which it was hard to find anyone over 20.

Rather than re-hash everything here, please take 10 minutes to read possibly the funniest page on all of Wikipedia detailing the insanely dangerous rides, the routine injuries, the wasted patrons, and the various legal issues that arose. Weird New Jersey also has some extensive (and often first-person) narratives of the park; attendance appears to have been a mandatory rite of passage for kids and teenagers in the NY/NJ area during the 1980s. If I haven't sold you yet, check out their commercial:

Notice what you don't notice in that commercial – basic safety features on any of the rides. Railings? Padding? Park employees? Why, it almost looks like someone just set up some slides and swings over pools of water and let everyone fling their bodies around at extreme speeds. I believe it looks like that because…it was. It's amazing how dangerous the rides look in the commercial, when the park ostensibly is showing itself in the most favorable light. My personal favorite is the waterslide at the end where instead of landing in a pool, riders are flung across the surface of a shallow pool where they are supposed to skip like a rock.

It's unclear whether this was an amusement park or some kind of bizarre social experiment, as though the CIA was trying to figure out what would happen if drunk children were put in charge of an environment specifically designed to kill you.

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41 Responses to “NPF: AT ACTION PARK”

  1. radical scientist Says:

    If those rides needed safety belts, the free market would have put them there.

  2. middle seaman Says:

    Your memory seriously betrays you. The park is in Iraq.

  3. guttedleafsfan Says:

    Aw, hell! I coulda gone there on my honeymoon, but my husband thought it was too traditional.

  4. J. Dryden Says:

    They should've gone with the original name: Darwin's Sorting Bin. I counted at least four times during that brief ad where I said "Holy shit he's gonna–oh, man, that was close–there's a colostomy bag in that idiot's future."

    And any place that offers itself as "a great place to go when it's hot out" is immediately on my list of places to avoid like the plague that's no doubt breeding copiously in its many many unfiltered, stagnant bodies of water.

    Although, given the beer consumption, it's possible that all that "water" is completely sterile, in that it is almost certainly 100% whiz.

    In short, one of the best NPFs in recent memory.

  5. evil is evil Says:

    I was looking for the place in the late 1980s. I asked some kid on the street for directions. He very earnestly said, "My brother worked there. Don't go. That place is dangerous."

    I haven't even heard of the place for 20+ years. Glad now that I listened to the guy.

  6. Arslan Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this(saw your FB post first). This is one of the most hilarious, most Simpsons-esque things I've ever seen.

  7. Jimcat Says:

    I was there in 1987 and '88. It was everything the commercial and site would lead you to think it was. My friends and I never suffered any serious injuries, but on the other hand, we never came away from there without some of our group suffering bruises, twisted ankles, friction burns, or other aches and pains.

    There was one water slide that seemed to be especially dangerous for female riders, as a couple of girls who went with me reported that it squirted water up their hoo-hahs.

    I'm disappointed that I never got to do the tank ride – I think it was down for maintenance frequently (or, based on the website's account, maybe the employees just decided they'd rather not run it). I did enjoy the speedboat ride, but it was obvious how potentially dangerous it was for someone who wasn't careful. Capsizing or hitting the bank at high speed were ever-present dangers. I wasn't aware at the time that the pond was full of snakes, although that wouldn't have deterred my 18/19-year-old self.

    Action Park, along with Crazy Eddie, was one of the unique cultural icons of the New York metro area in the 80's.

  8. Arslan Says:

    Back in 2011 I went to this water park in Spain. The last time I had been to a water park was probably in 1996, but more importantly, before I achieved a height of over two meters. A few times I got really banged up going down a pretty standard water slide as my legs hit the outside wall on the turns. Nothing compared to this though. This kept me laughing all night.

  9. Breezeblock Says:

    I've lived in NJ my whole life, and am proud to say I never went to Action Park. I did ski up there back in the day — saw plenty of drunks on the slopes, mostly underage kids, and even though I wasn't much older, it scared me pretty good.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    Pfui.
    'Tain't nothin'!

    Go to a country fair if you want to see poorly maintained rides supervised by drunken teenagers who are also high on all sorts of pharmaceuticals – natural, and not.
    Or, better yet, one of those fly-by-night amusement parks that open for a week in some shopping mall parking lot.
    "Something Wicked This Way Comes," indeed.

  11. Sean Says:

    As one who came of age in Bergen County circa 1985 I remember it well…Do you also remember Coney Island's Astroland? "Hey, I'm a big shot, for $6.98!"

  12. Sarah Says:

    2. The on-site sale of alcohol from the park's own microbrewery. So it was a park full of dangerous rides wherein the owners were actively trying to get you shitfaced.

    Dude, the "cannonball loop." Pretty sure the only way any sane person would get on that one is if they were drunk first. Selling alcohol was a feature, not a coincidence.

  13. kentropic Says:

    Thanks for the reminder of my favorite Steve Albini/Shellac record: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szYLtKdUcVQ

  14. Death Panel Truck Says:

    "Class Action Park" – I kno

  15. Death Panel Truck Says:

    Let's try that again:

    "Class Action Park" – I know I shouldn't laugh, but goddamnit, that's funny.

  16. Major Kong Says:

    Also known as "thinning the herd".

  17. Jacquie Says:

    "Some of the test dummies sent down before [Cannonball Loop] opened had been dismembered"–BAHAHAHAHAHA. Hoo boy. I grew up close enough to NYC to see commercials for this hellhole, but far enough away that my parents wouldn't take me. Guess I was one of the lucky ones. Great post, Ed.

  18. JohnR Says:

    If there is an essence of New Jersey, this is it. Thanks, Ed! That's also one of the best Wikipedia pages I've ever seen.

  19. DH Says:

    I remember the commercials for Action Park vividly from when I was a kid. At the time I was told that I was too young to go and I remember being pissed that I was stuck with Rye Playland instead. The place had an air of danger about it, especially since my older brother's friends would go and always came back with some nasty injuries, especially road rash from the Alpine slide.

  20. Jim Says:

    Just a slight correction. As a teenager, I went to Action Park once (this would be 1984 or 1985). The alpine slide did have a brake. It was puny and indequate, but it did exist.

  21. acer Says:

    "When I get to talking about it with other Jerseyans, we share stories as if we are veterans who served in combat together. I suspect that many of us may have come closest to death on some of those rides up in Vernon Valley. I consider it a true shame that future generations will never know the terror of proving their grit at New Jersey's most dangerous amusement park."

    Interesting use of the word "amusement."

    My hometown in NC had a water park that wasn't nearly as dangerous. I don't think it could afford to be.

    It did, however, have a jukebox, which was free. Invariably, someone would show up early and program one hit song to play throughout the day. That's how I came to spend an entire day's worth of 1992 listening to "Achy Breaky Heart."

  22. Slim Shady Says:

    the commercial was excellent. best part was the guy trying to run across the go-cart track without getting run down about 17 seconds in.

  23. Matt Says:

    @JohnR: "If there is an essence of New Jersey, this is it."

    Nah, they tried selling "Essence of New Jersey" for a bit, but people were freaked out by the hazmat labels. ;)

  24. Doctor Rock Says:

    Urine's pretty sterile when it leaves your body (unless you've got a UTI) but once it's out, it's a breeding ground for nasty shit. So pisswater wouldn't be sterile for long I don't think

  25. Major Kong Says:

    This explains why people from New Jersey are tough. They have to be.

  26. Jimcat Says:

    @ acer: You say "Interesting use of the word 'amusement'." But isn't foolish courting of injury or death one of humanity's oldest and most basic forms of amusement?

  27. chautauqua Says:

    Spent my high school years in Vernon, N.J. I remember going to Great Gorge Ski area, soliciting ads for the HS year book and accidently walking into the infirmary after a particularly nasty ski slope accident. It was enough for me to give the place a wide berth thereafter.

  28. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Hey, only six people ever died there. What's the big fucken deal?

  29. Edward Says:

    Hilarious. Someone should write a book about "class-action park". It sounds like something out of The Simpsons or a Hunter Thompson story.

  30. acer Says:

    @JimCat

    Q: What are a North Carolina boy's last words?

    A: Watch 'is!

  31. John Danley Says:

    Rand Paul Park, LLC.

  32. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    There was one water slide that seemed to be especially dangerous for female riders, as a couple of girls who went with me reported that it squirted water up their hoo-hahs.

    Hell, that's what I was wondering about that last slide, where the girl goes skimming out at high speed onto the water surface. I dunno exactly what you'd get from a jet of dirty water up the vayjayjay, but I'm guessing it'd not be conducive to summer fun.

  33. BruceFromOhio Says:

    It's unclear whether this was an amusement park or some kind of bizarre social experiment, as though the CIA was trying to figure out what would happen if drunk children were put in charge of an environment specifically designed to kill you.

    After I got done laughing at this, for some reason I immediately thought of my high school.

  34. Major Kong Says:

    It's all good fun until someone gets hurt – then it's hilarious.

  35. Robert Says:

    I recently read an article on carny talk, and the insular world that spawned it. One key feature was the contempt felt by carnies for mundanes. When the carnies are drunk teenagers, well, it's just a Shirley Jackson short story waiting to start.

  36. chris Says:

    nice to see action park getting some love… i went there twice as a kid and loved it. the alpine slide, while, yes, surely a darwinian experiment in action, was one of the coolest things I've ever done! Don't believe the hype. Much safer than skateboarding, oh wait that was also awesome!

  37. gracie Says:

    Don't forget — some of the chartered tour buses never even survived the trip to the park. Brakes would fail. Drivers would suffer heart attacks. Deer would hurl themselves on windshields. Creepy place.

  38. Nunya Says:

    I have to say, as a child of the Seventies, this was pretty much par for the course everywhere. The shit that I survived is pretty amazing except that 99% of my compatriots have made it to 40 fully intact.

  39. 1douchebag Says:

    To be honest, and this makes me question my sanity, I really want to go to Action Park now.

  40. The Pale Scot Says:

    Darwin indeed. But it was fun. And the beer was fucking GREAT. My bud and I would drink and race each other with the karts all day. Bastard was always a tenth of second ahead of me because he was 40 lbs lighter. And then have to drive home as our forearm and wrist muscles cramped painfully from yanking on the rack and pinion steering.

  41. tmangrove Says:

    Slate is following Ed:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/08/28/action_park_documentary_watch_the_most_insane_amusement_park_ever_video.html