Action Park

Action Park was an amusement and water park located in Vernon Township, New Jersey, United States, on the grounds of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski resort. The park consisted primarily of water-based attractions and originally opened to the public in 1978, under the ownership of Great American Recreation (GAR).

Action Park featured three separate attraction areas: the Alpine Center, Motorworld, and Waterworld. The latter was one of the first modern American water parks. Many of its attractions were unique, attracting thrill-seekers from across the New York metropolitan area. While extremely popular, Action Park had a reputation for poorly designed rides, undertrained and underaged staff, intoxicated guests and staff, and a consequently poor safety record. At least six people are known to have died as a result of mishaps on rides at the park. Healthcare workers and local residents had nicknamed the place "Traction Park", "Accident Park"...Read more

Action Park was an amusement and water park located in Vernon Township, New Jersey, United States, on the grounds of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski resort. The park consisted primarily of water-based attractions and originally opened to the public in 1978, under the ownership of Great American Recreation (GAR).

Action Park featured three separate attraction areas: the Alpine Center, Motorworld, and Waterworld. The latter was one of the first modern American water parks. Many of its attractions were unique, attracting thrill-seekers from across the New York metropolitan area. While extremely popular, Action Park had a reputation for poorly designed rides, undertrained and underaged staff, intoxicated guests and staff, and a consequently poor safety record. At least six people are known to have died as a result of mishaps on rides at the park. Healthcare workers and local residents had nicknamed the place "Traction Park", "Accident Park", "Class Action Park" and "Friction Park".

Little effort was made by state regulators to address those issues, despite the park's history of repeat violations. GAR's management resorted to illegal financial schemes to keep itself solvent, which led to indictments of its executives, some of whom, like founder Gene Mulvihill, pled guilty to some charges. In its later years, personal injury lawsuits led to the closure of increasing numbers of rides and eventually the entire park closed in 1996.

In 1998, resort developer Intrawest announced the purchase of the majority of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area, including Action Park and other developable real estate lands that GAR owned. The park received a massive overhaul, which included extensively renovating and repairing attractions, especially those deemed either outright unsafe or inappropriate relative to Intrawest's vision of the park, with some being removed entirely. Afterward, the park reopened as Mountain Creek Waterpark.

 Mini-slide built into the side of a mountain

In 1976, Eugene Mulvihill and his company, Great American Recreation (GAR), the owners of the recently combined Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area in Vernon Township, New Jersey, wanted to make money during the summer off-season. Following the example of other ski areas, they opened a 2,700-foot (820 m) alpine slide down one of the steep ski trails.[1] For the summer of 1978, Mulvihill added two water slides and a go-kart track, and named the collection of rides the "Vernon Valley Summer Park".[2] Action Park was formally opened on July 4 of that year, with two opening-day promotions: a Dolly Parton look-alike contest and a tobacco juice-spitting contest.[3]

The following year, more water slides and a small deep-water swimming pool, as well as tennis courts and a softball field, were added to what became known as the Waterworld section of Action Park. By 1980, Motorworld had been carved out of swamplands the ski area owned across State Route 94. Combined, the park's 250 acres (100 ha)[3] formed one of North America's earliest modern water parks. It evolved into a major destination with 75 rides (35 motorized, self-controlled rides and 40 water slides).[4]

"Gene didn't want to do the same old shit, where you just get strapped into something or it twirls around," Andy Mulvihill, later the park's head lifeguard, recalls of his father's philosophy in creating Action Park. "He wanted to take the idea of skiing, which is exhilarating because you control the action, and transfer it to an amusement park. There's inherent risk in that, but that's what makes it fun."[3]

Action Park's most successful years were the early and mid-1980s. Most rides were still operating, and the park's dangerous reputation had not yet developed. In 1982, two guests died at the park within a week of each other, leading to the permanent closure of one ride.[5] Despite this, people continued to come in massive numbers. The park's fortunes began to turn with two deaths in the summer of 1984, and the legal and financial problems that stemmed from the ensuing lawsuits.[a] A state investigation of misconduct in the leasing of state land to Action Park led to a 110-count grand jury indictment against the nine related companies that ran the park and their executives for operating an unauthorized insurance company.[7] Many took pretrial intervention to avoid prosecution; Gene pleaded guilty that November to five insurance fraud-related charges.[8]

Action Park entertained over a million visitors per year during the 1980s, with as many as 12,000 coming on some of the busiest weekends.[4] Park officials said this made the injury and death rate statistically insignificant. Nevertheless, the director of the emergency room at a nearby hospital said they treated from five to ten victims of park accidents on some of the busiest days, and the park eventually bought the township extra ambulances to keep up with the volume.[4] In September 1989, GAR negotiated a deal with International Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) that would result in the sale of Vernon Valley/Great Gorge, and Action Park, for $50 million.[9] IBC later backed out of the deal, feeling the site was not suitable for their needs upon further inspections of the properties.[10][11]

In September 1991, GAR petitioned the township committee to put a referendum on the November ballot that if passed would have legalized the operation of games of skill and chance at Action Park. The effort failed because only 643 of the 937 signatures on the petition came from registered voters.[12]

A few rides were closed and dismantled due to costly settlements and rising insurance premiums in the 1990s,[b] and the park's attendance began to suffer as a recession early in that decade reduced the number of visitors. Action Park was still advertised as the world's largest water park.[14][15]

In early 1995, GAR operated Vernon Valley/Great Gorge and Action Park with no liability insurance.[16] New Jersey did not require it, and GAR found it more economical to go to court than purchase liability insurance, since they relied on their own self-insurance.[17][18] However, they ultimately purchased liability insurance from Evanston Insurance Company in May of that year to cover Action Park and the skiing facilities.[19] As 1995 progressed, GAR's financial woes continued to accumulate. First Fidelity Bank, who lent $19 million to GAR and some 15 other connected corporations, filed suit against them in an effort to begin the process of foreclosing on the debt owed to them.[20] Law firms owed money for services rendered between 1991 and 1993 also began filing suit.[21] As November approached, GAR negotiated a deal with Noramco Capital Corp. and the Praedium Fund of CS First Boston, in which they would purchase the debt owed to First Fidelity, temporarily fending off an impending foreclosure.[22]

In February 1996, the creditors who had taken on GAR's $14 million debt petitioned to force it into bankruptcy.[23] GAR filed for Chapter 11 protection that following March, but remained optimistic that they could regain their financial footing "within a year."[24] After closing at the end of the season as usual on Labor Day 1996, it launched a website where visitors could find information about rides, directions to the park, lodging, and enter a lottery for park tickets.[25]

As the 1997 summer season approached, GAR remained optimistic that Action Park would open as expected on June 14, in spite of massive layoffs at the end of the prior ski season.[26] The opening date was pushed back two weeks,[27] and then into mid-July.[28] On June 25, GAR announced the cessation of all its operations, including Action Park.[29]

Following the demise of GAR, Praedium Recovery Fund purchased the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge resort, including Action Park, for $10 million.[30] The investment group put Angel Projects in charge of managing the resort, and aimed to spend $20 million to upgrade the ski resort's equipment and trails and remodel the water park.[31] Instead, Canadian resort developer Intrawest purchased the property in February 1998. It revamped the Waterworld section of Action Park, and reopened it for the 1998 season as Mountain Creek Waterpark, while the Alpine Center section had its bungee tower demolished, and Space Shot ride dismantled.[32] The Motorworld section of the park remained in place, undisturbed, until at least mid-2000, when work began on Mountain Creek's Black Creek Sanctuary.[33]

^ "So What If There's No Snow, Go Sliding Down Hill Anyway". Ocala Star-Banner. November 5, 1976. ^ "Town Topics (Princeton), Sep. 13, 1978". Donald C. Stuart, Jr., 1946-1981, Dan D. Coyle, 1946-1973, Donald C. Stuart III, 1981-2001, Lynn Adams Smith, 2001- – via Internet Archive. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference Sports Illustrated story was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference Traction Park was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ "There was Nothing in the World Like Action park". Sometimes-Interesting. Retrieved July 16, 2015. ^ Seth Porges (August 2020). Class Action Park (Streaming video) (Documentary film). HBO. Retrieved October 22, 2021. ^ McKay, Martha; May 12, 2005; Ultimate wine snob Archived December 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine; New Jersey Herald, retrieved August 27, 2006. ^ New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, date not given, Concrete Results: Ensuring Justice, Saving Taxpayers' Money, 47, retrieved August 27, 2006. ^ "Owner Agrees to Sell Action Park, Ski Area". The Record. New Jersey. September 7, 1989. ^ "Firm Breaks Off Deal for Vernon Valley". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. September 27, 1989. ^ "Great Gorge Deal Iced Int'l Broadcasting Axes its Purchase of Ski, Action Areas". The Record. New Jersey. September 28, 1989. ^ "Vernon Rejects Petition on Action Park Games". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. September 24, 1991. ^ Domond v. Great American Recreation, 116 F.Supp.2d. 368, 373 (E.D.N.Y. 2000). ^ Action Park commercial from 1994. YouTube. ^ Alice In Chains Headbanger's Ball. THIS4U2NJOY. May 17, 2012. Archived from the original on January 29, 2022. Retrieved February 18, 2022 – via YouTube. ^ "N.J. Ski Area Has No Liability Insurance Big Accident Could Bankrupt It". The Record. New Jersey. February 14, 1995. ^ "Largest Ski Resort in N.J. Has No Liability Insurance". Press of Atlantic City. February 15, 1995. ^ "Vernon Valley Ski Resort Relies on Own Insurance". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. February 15, 1995. ^ "Action Park, Ski Area Buy Coverage". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. May 19, 1995. ^ "Sussex Resorts Sued in Step to Foreclosure". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. May 20, 1995. ^ "Troubles Mount for Vernon Resorts as Lawyers Sue for $175,000 in Fees". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. May 24, 1995. ^ "Vernon Resort Gets Bailed Out, Mulvihill Bows Out". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. November 14, 1995. ^ "Debt avalanche threatens to bury ski resort Court petition seeks involuntary bankruptcy of Great American Recreation in Sussex". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. February 22, 1996. ^ "Action Park, Vernon Valley seek court protection from creditors". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. April 3, 1996. ^ "Action Park". Action Park. December 27, 1996. Archived from the original on December 27, 1996. Retrieved October 24, 2021. ^ "Great Gorge issues host of pink slips". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. April 19, 1997. ^ "North Jersey". North Jersey. ^ "Season of Discontent Bankrupt Action Park remains out of action Great American exec cautiously optimistic on opening by July". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. June 11, 1997. ^ "For Action Park, the summer's over". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. June 28, 1997. ^ "Court accepts bid for ski area". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. September 12, 1997. ^ "New owner to reopen Vernon Valley slopes". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. October 18, 1997. ^ "Days of beer and bungees end as Action Park goes 'family'". The Star-Ledger. Newark, NJ. April 2, 1998. ^ Proposed Preliminary and Final Site Plan for BLACK CREEK SANCTUARY at MOUNTAIN CREEK - Drawing 4, "Demolition Plan." - Accessed 2020-06-29 through the Sussex County Digital Records Website


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