The Mother of Action Park Stories

In 2014 my local newspaper reported on two different television production companies approaching Action Park about doing a reality TV show. (Chances are this link will be dead or under a subscription wall.)

Action Park, if you don’t know, is a notorious water park located in the Northwestern NJ town in which I live. The park has been through several incarnations, but its first, from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, was the worst. If you visited the park during that time, it was likely that you would leave it with some kind of injury. Mostly of the minor scratch kind, but six* people died there, and more were seriously hurt. There were the usual lawsuits and newspaper stories as a result.

Eventually, Action Park closed, and then was taken over by another company. It became Mountain Creek Water Park for awhile and supposedly was a much safer experience. In April 2014, the new owners (who are also the original owners) decided to return to their roots and call it Action Park again.

Action Park rises again.

Action Park rises again.

They did so to capitalize on the huge amount of nostalgia people have for the place. Even the injured get all misty when they recall the days when you could risk it all at an amusement park–when the world wasn’t ruled by class action lawsuits and people could introduce the craziest ride concepts and get actual volunteers to test them out. They gaze lovingly at their scars and share a strange kindred spirit with their fellow victims.

In 2005, I wrote a story about Action Park for Weird NJ that highlighted this same nostalgia. I interviewed a number of locals who worked at the park as teenagers. And I spent a few long weekend days sitting in the Wantage branch of the Sussex County Library, combing through microfilm looking for news stories to match up some facts to the tall tales. I felt like I hit the motherlode when I found the website of the reporter who had covered the accidents and related court cases for the New Jersey Herald, and even spoke with him over the phone about a few off-record things that they never reported on because of journalistic integrity and whatnot.

The story wasn’t Shakespeare, but of all the stories I’ve written, I’ve never seen one get the kind of second-hand mileage that damn Action Park story has gotten.

What do I mean by second-hand mileage? Well, over the years the story has been the source for many other stories that have been written about the park, and I’m not knocking that at all. In some cases, writers have been good about at least crediting Weird NJ as the source, if not me directly. In other cases, the news is not as good. I’ll see my wording duplicate itself in less-careful reporters’ hands.

In the case of Wikipedia, the Action Park entry was created by somebody who is not affiliated with the magazine, and some of the content does dodge a bit around proper crediting of not only my work, but of others who wrote about personal park experiences for the magazine. The guy who originally put it together had a note on the back end of the entry that mentioned talking to me about getting copies of my research. You know, instead of going to the library and doing it himself. I know that the Weird NJ publishers have not been happy about the entry.

And every so often, some intrepid blogger will discover Action Park and feel the need to give it his own spin. The article appears, and the next thing I know, my Facebook feed will fill up with posts from people saying “Hey, isn’t this a great story about Action Park!”

Yeah, it’s great. What was his source, and did he credit it?

In the last year or so, someone took the Action Park experience to a new level by making it a two-parter video that was posted to a pretty major website. [See my update below.] And my Facebook feed runneth over, again. In this case, the first part of the video involved what seemed like a blessing by Weird NJ: an interview with Chris Gethard, who originally wrote about his personal experiences at the park for the same issue in which my story appeared. The video also included interviews involving the people who worked at the pretty major website, who talked about their own experiences at the park. And one of the long-time owners of the park stepped away from his usual silence on the subject to talk rather cheerfully about how hardcore it once was. A win for the writer/producer who put it together.

The second part of the series, I didn’t see. Partly because I was annoyed by what was becoming a trend: I did all of this research and could be a good interview source, and my name does appear with the article in most of its reprinted versions (the magazine, the website, the second Weird NJ book). I’m not impossible to find. But…silence. And I’m glad I didn’t see it, because I was told by a few people that it was mostly a rehash of the historical stuff that I had covered.

I ran into Chris G. at an event about a year after the videos came out and he made a point to tell me that he had given the writer/producer my name and told him that I was probably the best person to contact if he wanted to talk Action Park history. But as I said above, the guy never reached out to me. Unlike Chris, who is getting famous under his own speed, I’m not famous, and I suspect that had a hand in it. My physical participation wasn’t going to generate site hits.

The Facebook feed went mad this past April, with the announcement that Mountain Creek was becoming Action Park again. And I watched as people linked to the video series and some other articles written by people who weren’t me. I suppose it will continue if this reality TV show thing goes through. I’m not holding my breath waiting for the production crew to show up at my doorstep…and to be honest, I don’t know if I really want to be part of their unreality.

Know this: I don’t expect a parade, or extensive ass-kissing, or people throwing rose petals at my feet for writing the damn story. But I do believe that my story in Weird NJ is the mother of all formal Action Park stories. I have my theories about why it seems to get kicked to the curb while other, newer stories (and their writers) get exposure, but I’ll sound even more bitter than I already do if I go into them here.

So please, if you find the need to write about Action Park, do check out my story, which I’ve also posted here. And if you quote from it, just give me a little credit, won’t you? I may even share my research. Thanks.

An update: Early in 2020, the creator of the aforementioned videos contacted me with an apology for not reaching out about the park sooner. While I’m still a little confused about how Weird NJ could go missing in anyone’s research about the place, I believe his apology to be sincere. Sincere enough that he added a link to the magazine on the website for the feature-length documentary coming out in 2020 – which I hope people can see once this crazy virus curve has been flattened. And I think there’s also some screen credit for Weird NJ in the doc itself. It’s enough for me to feel acknowledged, and I appreciate that.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.