The Rise and Fall of Action Park, New Jersey’s Most Dangerous Water Park

An enclosed water slide with a complete loop where customers ended up with bloody noses. A wheeled ride with no brakes that shot down a concrete-and-fiberglass track. A freshwater pool with giant waves that required lifeguards to rescue over two dozen people a day. New Jersey’s Action Park, which quickly became known as “Accident Park”, had it all. It was arguably America’s most dangerous water park.

Opened in Vernon, New Jersey, in 1978, Action Park was one of the first modern water parks in the United States. Founder and CEO Gene Mulvihill’s philosophy was that amusement park visitors should be in control of their experience, envisioning a park where patrons managed the rides—including how fast and how high they went. And that’s exactly what he created at Action Park.

Alpine slide. (Credit: Charles Wilgren/Flickr Creatiev Commons/CC BY 2.0)

One extreme example was the park’s Alpine Slide, which has been described by an old Action Park regular as, “essentially a giant track to rip people’s skin off that was disguised as a kid’s ride.” The slide featured a long, cement-and-fiberglass-filled track that visitors rode down in a wheeled device. But first, park goers would take a ski lift to the summit, where they were greeted by photographs of injured children, accompanied by a warning for riders to keep their arms inside their device. In theory, each rider was in charge of their own speed, but the devices were almost always broken. Some had no brakes, which meant there was no slowing down as they would zoom down the concrete slide. Others had the brakes locked on, causing the rider to crawl down the slide, inevitably being hit in the back by another, speedier, rider. The park saw its first fatality on the Alpine Slide, when a 19-year-old employee rode off the track and hit his head. According to New Jersey’s records, there were at least 26 other serious head injuries and 14 fractures attributed to the Alpine Slide.

One of the…

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