It’s time to cover the legend of the world’s most dangerous amusement and water park. Unless you’re a New Jersey native, you probably haven’t heard much about the most absurd piece of our history: Action Park.
The Documentary “Class Action Park” on HBO Max
The HBO Max original documentary: Class Action Park released in August 2020 sheds light on a chaotic park that was built in none other than my home state of New Jersey.
The Class Action documentary inspired me to create this post. Class Action Park takes viewers on a WILD ride through the insane history of New Jersey’s first attempt to create its own amusement and water park.
If you haven’t watched Class Action Park, I HIGHLY recommend it. Although what happened at the park (as you’ll soon discover) is deeply concerning, sad, and irresponsible, the film shows interviews of real people who actually visited the park as children and so many of their anecdotal stories and one-liners had me laughing to the point of being in tears. You can stream the movie on HBO Max.
The Story of the Infamous “Action Park” in Vernon, NJ
Table of Contents
What Is Action Park?
Their original slogan couldn’t ring any more true:
“There’s Nothing in the World like Action Park!”
Action Park, initially referred to as “Traction Park” and later as “Class Action Park“, was an amusement park and water park designed for teenagers, designed by teenagers, and essentially operated by teenagers.
Often absent of oversight, Action Park became a heavenly place free of all rules: the perfect place for kids to be kids without the interference of adult supervision.
The Official Map of Action Park
Action Park had 3 main areas: The Alpine Center, Water World, and Motor World.
Each of these areas had rides that resulted in various injuries and fatalities through sheer negligence: poor ride design, child labor, teenage management, and a relaxed regulatory climate.
The park was located in Vernon, New Jersey.
As you proceed through this post, you’ll be introduced to photos and stories about all of the absurd rides so many New Jerseyans and New Yorkers still flex battle scars from.
The Alpine Center
In another section below, I’ll be showing photos/stories of the ridiculous rides. In this section, my goal is to introduce you to the areas that existed within the park.
The Alpine Center’s main attractions included: The Alpine Slide, The Man in the Ball in the Ball, The Snapple Snap-Up Whipper Snapper, The Skateboard Park, and Transmobile.
Waterworld’s main attractions included: The Cannonball Loop, The Tidal Wave Pool, Aqua Skoot, Kamikaze, Kayak Experience, Tarzan Swing, Roaring Rapids, Surf Hill, Super Speed Water Slides, and The Colorado River Ride.
Motorworld had three areas: Land Rides, Watercraft Rides, and Air Rides.
Motor World Land Rides
Motorworld’s Land Ride attractions included: Super Go Karts, Lola Cars, and Battle Action Tanks.
Motor World Watercraft Rides
Motorworld’s Watercraft main attractions included: The Super Speedboats and Bumper Boats.
Motor World Air Rides
Motorworld’s Air main attractions included: The Space Shot and the Sling Shot.
Action Park: A Place Where Death Was Tolerated
At Action Park, CEO Gene Mulvihill wanted to create a year-round amusement park with a focus on the park being as intense as the guest intended.
We would try to die for fun at Action Park.Comedian Chris Gethard
Since rules and laws were more lax in the 80s and 90s, the US government generally relied on businesses to use their better judgment to enforce safety guidelines and restrictions.
Action Park is the prime example of why that thinking was not a good idea.
After 2 deaths in the summer of 1984, things really began to head downhill for Mulvihill and his park. As time went on, more people were getting injured and dying.
Soon the park experienced 4 deaths within 2 years and 6 deaths within a span of 7 years (and sadly, this only counts fatalities that were officially documented, never mind all the deaths and injuries that went unreported.)
15 of The Most Dangerous Rides that Actually Existed at Action Park!
1. Cannonball Loop
Missing Teeth, Broken Noses, & Head Injuries
I kid you not, The Cannonball Loop slide was created from a napkin sketch Gene drew while daydreaming about new rides he could build.
Gene used to stand at the bottom waving $100 bills for any of his teenage employees who were willing to brave going down to test it.
It wasn’t unusual for riders’ teeth to get stuck in the slide’s plastic as their head whacked against the walls of the ridiculous loop that disregards all laws of physics.
Riders would go down feet first and sometimes unintentionally emerge head first.
Some riders broke their nose, had neck or back injuries, and let’s not talk about the people who didn’t build up enough momentum to make it through the loop!
Thankfully someone had enough brains to remember to build a back-door to rescue anyone who got trapped in the loop: something that happened often.
2. Man in the Ball in the Ball (Bailey Ball)
Summer heat melted the course, a man rolled Away across Route 94, and into The Swamp
The Bailey Ball was supposed to allow a single rider to roll down a track built from PVC pipes as outer rails following a ski trail.
The designers of this ride failed to take into account the tendency for PVC pipe to expand in heat. A state inspector evaluated the ride on a hot summer day and watched as a rider roller off course, down a hill, across a busy highway, and into a swamp.
Once the ball came to a stop, the inspector left without saying anything and park management abandoned the project.
3. The Tidal Wave Pool
3 People Drowned in “The Grave Pool”
Imagine trying to float with full-power 40″ tall waves. Mulvihill’s idea for the Grave Pool was to run intense waves every 20 minutes with 10 minute breaks in between.
Most visitors were either inexperienced swimmers or didn’t know how to swim at all. Waves of this caliber would be enough to exhaust even an average swimmer.
Since the Tidal Wave Pool used fresh water, people sank even more easily than normal. Most wave pools incorporate a mixture of salt to replicate ocean water which makes people more buoyant.
Unable to float or be rescued by the overworked lifeguards, 3 people drowned in the Action Park wave pool.
4. The Kayak Experience
Death by Electrocution
When one rider flipped his kayak, one of the underwater fans short circuited.
He was electrocuted to death.
It seems that was the real Kayak Experience: ungrounded electricity in a water park.
5. The Super Speed Slides
People Would Come Off Naked Unexpectedly
The ride was so steep sometimes people’s backs would lift off from the slide which made these slides very dangerous.
While accelerating from free fall, the drag of water sometimes meant various articles of clothing would be pulled off the riders.
6. The Colorado River Ride
Tubes Would Sometimes Overturn or Nearly Go Over the Embankments
The Colorado River Ride was one of the most underrated dangerous rides. Mulvihill wanted to make the ride as similar to the Colorado River as possible.
While that might sound like a fun idea, that’s actually pretty dangerous standard for conditions to replicate within a water park.
It was on this ride people would hit heads with other riders, rafts would climb the walls of the embankments, and collisions of rafts sometimes led to fistfights.
The tunnels were full of jagged rocks which frequently cut or scraped riders passing by.
7. Motor World Bumper Boats
Fractured Limbs & Gasoline-Coated Skin
While some viewed the Bumper Boats in Motor World as a safer ride, plenty of people still got hurt. Since the boats were tiny, taller riders sometimes let their legs hang out which resulted in fractures from collisions.
The boats were also poorly maintained and leaked gasoline which coated the rider’s skin.
8. Cannonball Falls Waterslide
One Minute You’re on a Slide and the Next You’re In the Sky
Some riders got disoriented on this ride because it would spit you out 10 feet in the air.
This waterslide was shut down because it had the highest number of injuries of any waterslide in the state of New Jersey.
9. Roaring Springs
Fractured Femurs, Collar Bones, Noses, Shoulders, Knees, and More
This ride was poorly supervised with lifeguards paying little-to-no attention. Spacing riders out was poorly handled resulting in irksome bottlenecks.
A lot of riders hit their heads and fractured parts of their body from banging into things on the ride.
10. The Alpine Slide
People Were Injured Here Every Single Day
No ride caused more injuries at Action Park than The Alpine Slide.
The track riders would race down was made from fiberglass, concrete, and mostly asbestos.
Since so many sleds were broken, you couldn’t really steer or stop.
Some riders would take turns too fast, fall off and get badly scraped up, or in the most serious cases: projected into the nearby rocks where some riders were concussed or lost their lives.
11. The Motor World Super Go Karts
The Cars Were Tampered With By the Staff
Super Go Karts were controlled by a governor device that was supposed to limit the speed to 20 miles per hour.
Action Park employees discovered if they stuffed a tennis ball into the device, the kart could reach speeds closer to 50 miles per hour. 50 MPH bumper cars were simulating car crashes with authentic car crash injuries.
Some riders were overcome by gasoline fumes from driving karts with poorly maintained engines.
12. Surfer Hill
One Person Broke Their Back After Going Airborne
Staff members discovered that if they slid further up on the matts, they could jump higher and higher into the air.
One rider stayed in the air so high and for so long that upon landing, he broke his back.
13. The Aerodium
Dislocated Shoulders, Severed Nerves, and Partial Paralysis
Water World later added the Aerodium Skydiving Simulator. The Aerodium was a skydiving simulator wind tunnel invented in Germany in 1984. Action Park decided to build their own.
Consequently they had riders end up with dislocated shoulders, severed nerves, and paralysis of the arms after instinctively putting their arms down before falling to the ground once the fan was turned off.
14. Aqua Skoot
Head Injuries & Collisions
The idea of the ride was, once the sled hit the water, to skip across the water like a stone.
To do this, the rider has to be in a specific position. If not, the rider would sink immediately upon hitting the pool. This also frequently knocked them off the sled head-first resulting in head injuries.
15. The Tarzan Swing
Profanity & Thermal Shock
The Tarzan Swing consisted of a 20-foot-long cable that patrons would hang and swing from before plunging into the frigid water below.
The water was so cold that the shock of falling in sometimes left people unable to remember how to swim and in need of rescue.
In 1984, one man died from a heart attack after using the Tarzan Swing. Meanwhile New Jersey and New Yorkers shouted profanity at him and anyone else daunted by the swing.
Full List of Rides at Action Park
Hopefully you found this list intriguing!
My Family’s Experience at Action Park
My mom and dad have been to Action Park back in the 80s and 90s. Their first-experience helped me learn about Action Park and it’s wild history. Action Park closed in 1996 when I was 1 year old.
However, I have been to Mountain Creek Water Park which is the modern adaptation of Action Park that reopened after Action Park’s closure. I went to the park in 2004 when I was 9 years old.
Here are my 4 memories from Mountain Creek Water Park:
- The White Painted Wave Pool (A relic from Action Park’s past which was done to make it easier to spot people who were drowning)
- The concrete floors that as a child I found terribly uncomfortable for a water park
- Bees everywhere (the railing were all made of wood and full of wasp nests)
- I mostly just remember being obsessed with this ride: High Anxiety
What Ultimately Happened to Action Park?
As you can see, Action Park was a major liability with almost every ride posing a significant risk of death.
There were more than 2,400 lawsuits related to personal injury at Action Park.
Under new ownership, Action Park reopened with some changes as Mountain Creek Water Park in 1998.
The name went back to Action Park in 2014 after being sold to the original owners, but was ultimately renamed once again back to Mountain Creek Water Park in 2016.
Almost every detail we learn about the park is horrifying and shows how negligent Action Park’s management was, especially regarding the senseless ways in which multiple lives were lost, but the story behind this mysterious park from the past is totally shocking.
For those of you who were around in the 80s or 90s, do you remember Action Park?
I bet for some readers, this post may bring about a sense of nostalgia as you remember “the good old days.”