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No small feat



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



THE VINDICATOR

KENNYWOOD, AMERICA'S favorite traditional amusement park, has more fun per square inch to offer vacationers and thrill-seekers in the summertime fun destination game.

With just over 80 acres, half of which is parking lot, Western Pennsylvania's Kennywood is somewhat smaller compared with other amusement parks, but don't be misled. Nearly each acre equals a ride -- 33 big rides and 14 Kiddieland rides in total -- with park expansion requiring just about the same due diligence and consideration as the construction of a skyscraper into the New York City skyline.

"It's a challenge," said Kennywood Director of Public Relations Mary Lou Rosemeyer. "We typically have to take something out if we're putting something new in. The upside to that is that we're very, very creative about what we do and there is a whole lot of thought that goes into it, about whether to restore something, whether to update something, to add something new."

An example of such creative expansion came in the late 1990s when the park shoe-horned the 250-foot-high Pitfall inside a loop of the popular roller coaster Phantom's Revenge. Another example of ingenuity revolves around the hilly topography of Allegheny County. Whereas some may look at steep mountainsides and see uninhabitable land, Kennywood officials envisioned terrain-friendly roller coasters just waiting to be built. This includes the jaw-dropping Thunderbolt.

It's a small world

Kennywood believes less is more when it comes to its layout because visitors don't have to walk seemingly forever to get to a favorite ride on the other side of the park.

"It's nice and we're not linear like a lot of parks are," Rosemeyer said. "I jokingly tell people when they come into the park that it's much like Pittsburgh itself. You can go any direction at anytime and get anywhere. There's a straight line to anything. It's all tight, a lot of fun and beautiful."

Built in 1896, Kennywood boasts rides that date back to an era before steel contraptions took riders at warp speeds higher than the birds can fly. However, the park must balance its past with its future, which is exactly what it did a few years ago with its oldest ride, The Old Mill.

"To my knowledge, it's the only one in the United States that still has a wooden trough," Rosemeyer said. "There are only a couple in the world."

"It's the original water ride," the Discovery Channel said. "It's the oldest operating water ride in the world that we know of. And you go through a wooden trough in a boat."

Built in 1901, The Old Mill, or Tunnel of Love as it's commonly called, received a facelift last year when it was turned into Garfield's Nightmare. Today families enjoy the leisurely trip through this kooky feline's dreams.

"Kennywood is definitely the best of the old and the best of the new," Rosemeyer said.

Classic rides

"One thing that I think is important to us is that we want the best of the old but we don't want it to look old. So when you see an old park, it's not old in that sense. We kept rides back when everybody was getting rid of rides so we have many one-of-a-kind rides. You won't find them anywhere else. And they've been providing fun. They are the classics."

This impressive list includes the Turtle, Auto Race and the classic William Dentzel Co.-designed Merry-Go-Round, which will be completely refurbished for the 2005 season. Also new this year is Kennywood's entrance area, which received a million-dollar makeover.

"It's hard to spend money on infrastructure because it's not a ride, but you have to do it, obviously," Rosemeyer said. "This entrance is going to be beautiful and people are going to move in with much greater ease than they did in the past. We'll no longer have wristbands. Our pricing structure is changing so that will happen. There are restrooms and a lot of the guest services are up at the front gate. People will love it, I'm sure. It's going to be lovely."

Less than 90 minutes from Youngstown, Kennywood truly lives up to its billing as America's favorite traditional amusement park.

"I think the difference is that a lot of places have created ambiance and have been very intentional in doing that, and Kennywood has grown that way," Rosemeyer said. "People come back every year. Kennywood is a place to build and create memories. It's fun."




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