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ABANDONED: Inside the Epic Life and Closure of the World's Largest Theme Park

Do you have time for a tale? Sit back, relax, and dive into the interesting and timeless case of Geauga Lake, a tiny family park that started humbly enough before rocketing overnight into international headlines by combining with a full-sized SeaWorld to create the world’s largest Six Flags.

A gargantuan park of mega-coasters, killer whales, dizzying flat rides, a Batman water ski show, dolphins, log flumes, Hurricane Harbor, and motion simulators for one price, Six Flags Worlds of Adventure was conceptually prepared to become the best theme park on Earth.

And yet, you won’t hear about Six Flags Worlds of Adventure today. It’s certainly not on Six Flags’ website. Doesn’t look like they own a park in Ohio at all, does it? Neither will you hear much said about Geauga Lake that isn’t accompanied by sobs from industry fans and admonishing head shaking from insiders. So what caused the rise and fall of Geauga Lake (and the many names it’s gone by)? Now that’s a story for the ages. The best place to start is the beginning. We'll use park maps and images (all from the invaluable Geauga Lake Today fan site unless indicated otherwise) throughout. Those park maps, particularly, tell the story of the park perhaps better than words can!

A history along the shores (1887 – 1968)

GEAUGA LAKE (pronounced Gee-AH-guh) is one of those wonderful, storied parks that grew very organically. Its roots trace back to 1887 (which was adopted as its official “opening date,” if you could call it that) when the park was quite literally a picnic meadow along the northern shores of the eponymous 60-acre pond. Like many of its contemporaries (including nearby Cedar Point), the story really starts when the railroad was built nearby, creating in Geauga Lake a perfect family getaway in the 19th century.

And like so many other picnic parks, Geauga Lake was soon home to a waterside ballroom, gardens, and full-sized steamboat that conducted lavish dance parties on the weekends. In 1889, a steam-powered carousel became its first ever ride – the same spark that would serve as the prologue to many similar, local family parks from Cedar Point to Conneaut Lake; Coney Island to Knoebel's. This was a world before Disney; before the idea that a park could be built-out, constructed all-at-once, and master-planned. Rather, Geauga Lake was the product of generations and generations of slow, steady growth.

To give a sense of Geauga Lake's grand, multi-generational story, consider this: in 1925, just as Walt and Roy Disney were stepping off the train in Los Angeles with dreams of opening an animation studio, Geauga Lake was opening the Big Dipper, the tallest and fastest roller coaster that had ever been built.

The storied past of Geauga Lake is much like many other historical family amusement parks, slowly developing from a picnic spot to a family midway populated by vendors, roller coasters, gardens, and fried food. Likewise, the park’s history is that of debilitating fires, a steady stream of owners, and attractions that form a storied, local foundation for a magnificent park.

It would be impossible to overemphasize the tremendous foundation of the park and its first century. By the 1960s, Geauga Lake was a playground for the great-grandchildren of its first visitors. The quaint park was a draw for locals who hoped to share with their children the wonder of the amusement park on the lake.

The above park map from 1976 gives a good impression of the delightful family park that Geauga Lake was throughout most of its life as it grew up. Even in the bicentennial, Big Dipper was already 51 years old... it had been around for a quarter of the United States' life! 

Whales across the way (1969 – 1997)

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Our story really gets interesting back in 1969, when the park was purchased by Funtime Incorporated, who had plans to develop Geauga Lake into an amusement park as we might define it today – the kind you can see in the map above. Their first decade saw the addition of a log flume, a sightseeing tower of over 200-feet, and even a few steel roller coasters, like Arrow’s Double Loop designed by Ron Toomer. Geauga Lake was transitioning from a picnic park to a modern amusement park.

And it wasn't going to be alone much longer!

A testament to the park’s picturesque location on the southern shore of the gorgeous 60-acre lake, it got a neighbor in 1970 when SEAWORLD OHIO opened directly across, on the northern shore. Predating their now-flagship park in Orlando, SeaWorld Ohio was a real place. The Penguin Encounter, the Shark Encounter, pearl divers, aquaria, Happy Harbor, and even the Shamu show. Yes, that SeaWorld had a park in Ohio, directly across from the Geauga Lake amusement park, a few hundred feet across the pond.

SeaWorld was a complement to Geauga Lake, and it, too, grew and grew. The wildlife park added to its staple killer whale shows, dolphin habitats, and water ski spectaculars.

By the 1990s, SeaWorld in Ohio was a modern park in all ways. It had added an immersive, themed Star Tours style motion simulator called Mission: Bermuda Triangle, a high-tech 4D theater, a meticulously-themed walkthrough dinosaur swamp, and was carrying staples like Clyde and Seamore's sea lion show (below), nighttime spectaculars on the lake, and much more. 

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Meanwhile, across the lake, Geauga Lake continued to expand, adding steel coasters and wooden coasters and a water park, as it became a standard family park. It was, primarily, a local spot. And all was right with the world. By the 1990s, Geauga Lake had a collection of roller coasters that sounds fairly standard: the Double Loop, the Corkscrew, the Big Dipper, and more – classic rides for a classic park.

Things began to change in 1995, and at first for the better! A company called Premier Parks acquired Funtime Incorporated, uniting parks like New York’s Darien Lake and Colorado’s Elitch Gardens into a single family of perfectly-sized local parks. And Premier was ready to invest, adding Mind Eraser (a Vekoma Boomerang coaster) and Grizzly River Run (a themed Intamin water rapids ride) while also expanding the water park.

Nearing a new millennium (1998 – 2000)

In 1998, Premier Parks gobbled up another entity, purchasing a down-on-its-luck Six Flags from Time Warner for $1.86 billion. The massive acquisition gave Premier control of Six Flags' already large portfolio of parks. But instead of bringing Six Flags parks into the Premier brand, Premier instead renamed itself (and its own parks) in Six Flags’ image. In 2000, Premier re-named itself Six Flags Theme Parks Inc. and set out to bring its smaller, local parks the benefit of Six Flags' name brand appeal.

So for the new millennium, Geauga Lake got a new identity. The park was renamed SIX FLAGS OHIO. More importantly, it was backed by a feverish new strategy. In 2000 alone, the park was granted $40 million in upgrades, expanding fast. That $40 million brought in twenty new rides, including four major coasters. That brought the tiny family park more in line with other Six Flags branded parks around the world, and it recast the historic Geauga Lake family park as something new: a thrilling, high-tech Six Flags complete with Looney Tunes, DC Super Heroes, and some record-breaking thrills. 

Consider just the major roller coasters stuffed into the park in its first year as Six Flags Ohio. First was The Villain (above), a towering hybrid wooden coaster placed in the park’s Western-themed Coyote Creek land. A gargantuan ride, The Villain ripped through 3,980 feet of wooden track at 60 miles per hour, including a very rare piece of modern trick track, swaying from side to side on opposingly banked rails in an otherwise straight piece of track.

Using Six Flags' licensing rights to the DC Super Hero universe, Six Flags Ohio also recieved an entirely new themed land: Gotham City. The only fitting inhabitant, of course, was a brand-new roller coaster called Batman: Knight Flight. The 157 foot tall B&M coaster featured floorless trains, leaving riders toes dangling inches above the track as it careened through five inversions, including interlocking corkscrews and the ride's signature: a 135 foot tall vertical loop – the tallest vertical loop in the world. 

A third major coaster, Superman: Ultimate Escape was the first of Intamin’s launched Twisted Impulse Coasters, with its two vertical towers dominating the skyline. The very next year, the park went big with X-Flight (below), a neon-green flying coaster that was nothing short of groundbreaking at the time, positioning riders face-first, lying toward the ground as they race through overbanked turns, loops, and rolls. The Vekoma creation was an early take on the concept that would evolve into B&M's flying coasters, like Manta and Tatsu. 

Each of the rides added to the park was tremendous and stunning in its size and design. They were, inarguably, world class rides. Added to the classic coasters from the park's past and the mild investment of Premier, these new modern marvels made up a nine coaster line-up that would make even Cedar Point or Magic Mountain jealous. 

Would you have believed then that the massive investment put into Six Flags Ohio would be its eventual undoing?

If you haven’t noticed: there is no longer a Six Flags Ohio. What came next might have been the park digging its own grave. If we can say anything though, it’s that the parks built around Geauga Lake went down in flames, not by burning out… The best is yet to come.

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There are 342 comments.

I will never forget SFWOA.... When I visited the park as a teen, I absolutely loved the major move by Six Flags to combine the three parks. I remember watching the killer whale show, and I absolutely loved everything that Six Flags had done (as an outside visitor to the area). I honestly do not remember having many complaints about the park except for the fact that the massive size did make for one FULL day. For me, I will never complain about a full day of amusements and something new. The revisit value was there for me, but sadly.... never got the chance as an adult that can make those trips himself now. This will always be Six Flags' best park in the company's history to me.

I loved it as a pre-teen, too! It wasn't until years later when those wiser and more versed in the industry were able to say, "Hold on a second... Don't just use your memories and rose colored glasses. Think about it. Realize who was operating it, how they were operating it, and the real logistics of it." As I said in the article, conceptually, it was incredible. But the reality of it was crippling to the park. :/ I hate it, but it's true! I loved it.

Congratulations Brian, this is great journalism, and brings back Memories. I live in South America now, but grew up in Columbus, and always wondered what happened to Geauga Lake and Sea World. Great childhood memories.

Brian, This is a very well written article. It is fascinating and quite fair. I found your "Reasons the park Failed" at the end to be incitful and accurate. I've been a big fan of Cedar Point and King's Island for 45 years; however, when I wanted a simpler and more memorable trip with my children, I preferred Sea World and Geauga Lake. I took all five of my kids "one on one" with Daddy when they would learn to read. (Late 80's - Early 90's) What great family memories! One photo my youngest daughter's trip is still on the wall at my office- She's climbing up the huge net in the kids area of Sea World- just as you described. She just graduated from college... My how time flies!... And yet, the memories are so vivid. They came rushing back with your article. Thanks again!

I remember going to Geauga Lake! My brother and I loved it! We loved the Raging Wolf Bobs and the wave pool! We spent sooo many summer days there. We were devastated to find out it closed.

It was my favorite place as a kid! I have so many memories

I loved this park...I still do not understand why it had to close. I went once when I was little and no park has ever compared. Ive always wished I could go back and take my fiance but I can't because it is closed... I do not understand why, the park literally had something for every member of the family

Cedar fair owner of cedar point planned the demise of Geauga lake

I literally grew up in this park from my fathers compqny picnics with the ufcw to buying a season ticket before the current pass expired the employees new me by first name as well as many other of my local childhood friend's......qnd for those who remember the creepy guy who would hide behind the door of the Rotto-Whirl truly new this park in and out!!! The impact of this parks demise affected the entire county I now live in a city off the turn pike with 25 hotels and this city is only 5x5 it is truly a shame that investors only care about profit margins and not the lively hoods of people who commited there lives to the joy that I was lucky enough to enjoy my entire childhood......greed will be this beautiful countries demise and all I wish is that for our future generations to learn from out ignorant mistakes and sins......

I remember all of it. Many childhood summers spent visiting both Sea World and Geauga Lake. Lots of wonderful memories. When Six flags took over it was new and exciting, we had those passes and loved visiting. It was new, yet familiar. It was awesome. I was sad when it all closed, like a piece of my childhood was lost forever. I can't say I was a fan of Cedar Faire when they closed it, but I just recently visited Kings Island and Cedar Point with my kids and husband. Even those have lost some magic. Maybe I am still holding a grudge. Lol. Thanks for the nostalgia. It was a nice trip down memory lane.

I grew up enjoying many happy days at Geauga Lake. Haven't been to Cedar Point since Cedar Fair closed if eliminating the competition was their goal, it didn't necessarily work. I'm actually amused that Cedar Point has been dethroned as the number 1 park in the world.

i, too, have never set foot in a cedar fair-owned park since.

I will not go to CEDER POINT Because of this stunt pulled on G.LAKE But have to say many good times at G.LAKE and we all miss the park, but will not go to cedar point. A great park was ruined here and it is sad but life will go on.

Cedar Faire did not cause the demise of GLP. It started w/ FT inc selling to Premiere & began it's downhill slid from there. Changing ownership multiple times. Each new owner screwing up more than the previous owner. Bigger is not always better. Setting the wheels in motion for GL's demise.
CF tried to bring it back to what is once was. They couldn't do this while not turning a profit.
CF was losing money. A very good reason that will cause a business to close up shop and lock it's doors.
CP has itself turned into a great coaster park. One only hurts themselves by not going to CP.

I believe that Cedar Point did indeed buy Geauga Lake just to close them down. This was their only competition in the area. Today the original roller coaster still stands, but you barely notice it with all the weeds growing up past the fence. It has recently been rezoned to sell off parcels of land for residential and commercial use. So sad, but the American way.

Thank you for a sane comment. That last year that it was Six Flags was horrific. That company turned the park upside down. They dismantled kiddie land and scattered it all over the park. The Double Loop was squeaking horribly. And it was a ghost town. We didn't wait more than ten minutes, n a weekend, for the biggest coasters. Weeds growing up between the cracks in the sidewalks and asphalt. To discourage people from bringing their own food they closed down the entrance from the picnic area where they used to have an attendant checking hand stamps. You had to walk all the way down the side service road to get to the picnic area and then all the way back around to the main gate to get back into the park. What that company did to that park was a travesty. CP and GL coexisted for a very long time. CP had no interest in closing this park due to "competition".

lol six flags didn't kill this park cf did six flags made it great but was in turmoil with debt from all there parks thus they had to make a choice and sell it off along with other parks six flags is coaster capital of world beating cp by about four coasters cp closed gl because it was competition in the new millennium maybe back in day they co exsisted but new millennium more rides and bigger attractions at gl from six flags made cp shit bricks If sfwoa was still around would be best park in world and biggest

Six Flags isn't the roller coaster king and it never has been. It's coasters are all clones. They couldn't come up with an original concept if they tried. Cedar Point, however, has done nothing but break coaster records since it's inception. No company spends 4 million dollars plus for a park just to close it.

As an insider... I'm going to add #6: Poor Management

SFWOA: The two parks were run radically different (when separate)... merging the two management styles was chock full of failure. Sea World did it this way, GLP did it that way... and never the twain shall meet. Naturally that becomes a problem when you need to put someone at the helm. In my department, they chose a Sea Worlder, who stacked the management team with Sea Worlders. It quickly became a point of contention between the two teams. More confusingly, the PARK wanted to run like Geauga Lake, but the DEPARTMENT attempted to run like Sea World (due to above mentioned reasons)... chaos abounded.

GLP: Then came the Cedar Fair purchase. Park management was swapped out with sons and close-friends pf various Cedar Fair C-Levels. These folks were entirely unqualified to run a park of any kind, let alone one with a festering management problem. The house of cards collapsed.

Really nice timeline on the park here. Well done and informative!

Most falls of businesses are because of poor management and those not willing to listen to those with the experience of wisdom. We were just talking about this this summer and miss both GLP and Sea world very much, we loved them and wish so much we could take our grandchildren to someplace like them. They are too little to ride those rides at Cedar point..waste of money.

Cindy, I don't know if it's too far for you, but Idlewild Park in Southwestern PA is a beautiful gem that is *perfect* for taking the grandchildren. Very family oriented, located in forested mountains, and with a lovely water park! There are a lot of campgrounds in the area and some nice hotels not too far away.
I remember going to Sea World with my family as a kid, and truly enjoying it.... Geauga Lake, too. It was so much more "accessible" for a family than Cedar Point!

I'm from Pittsburgh and I've been to GL, CP, and Kennywood and Idlewild. Very sad that GL has beer reopened. Now that my kids are bigger, we do go to CP about every other year. Idlewild Park is a perfect alternative for small children. kennywood is also an awesome park.

Does Idlewild still have Storybook Forest? My parents took me there when it,was a separate park in the early 60s. I took my kids there in the 80s when it combined with Idlewild. I live in Florida now, coincidentally in Orlando. I would love to take my grandchildren to Storybook Forest one day.

Cindy, There is a lovely family park in Pennsylvania that we took our children to visit until they were old enough to go to Cedar Point. It is called Idle Wild. About 3 1/2 hours from Cleveland. We were just talking about it a couple of weeks ago and said that we can't wait for grandchildren so that we can go back. Geauga Lake was only 1 hour from our home and only our older 2 children ever had the opportunity to go there. Our relatives from PA used to come and stay with us and take their children to Geauga Lake. Sad story

Even closer and less expensive than Idlewild is Waldameer Park in Erie. Right on the lake, it had great rides, a water park, and nice views from the tops of the rides. No general admission fee; you can pay by the ride or buy an all rides ticket. Still lots of rides for little kids.

Brian thanks for the great article. I believe when SFWOA purchased SeaWorld Ohio it was the begin of the end for Geauga Lake. So sad. I have many great childhood memories of these two great parks. Thanks again.

I read this paragraph completely on the topic of the resemblance of most up-to-date and earlier technologies,
it's remarkable article.

It still makes me sad everytime I drive by. Locals should have been at least warned of the closing, given a chance to visit one last time. Imagine the profits that could have been made from all the locals coming for one last visit?!?

I do have to correct the author. Aurora OH isnt exactly the biggest city, but by no means is it an area with country roads and in amish country! Amish country is a mere hour away. There also are at least 10+ hotels within 10minutes from the park.

If you are referring to Streetsboro, that area was still largely undeveloped between 2000-2004.

That article couldn't be any more biased against Cedar Fair. I get that CF was the last in a chain of bad decisions, but they alone are not responsible for the failures.

Those of you who are recounting watching the Shamu show at Six Flags are having memory issues too. All of the Killer whales were relocated to San Diego the year Sea World closed. If you want to look at why SFWOA failed, realize they bought a wildlife park WITHOUT its number 1 attraction. shows that all three were relocated when the park closed, not part of SFWoA.

actually there was a whale, her name was Shouka, I worked there, she was very friendly at the time also. She was moved in 2004 when cedar fair would not deal with animals.

That article couldn't be any more biased against Cedar Fair. I get that CF was the last in a chain of bad decisions, but they alone are not responsible for the failures.

Those of you who are recounting watching the Shamu show at Six Flags are having memory issues too. All of the Killer whales were relocated to San Diego the year Sea World closed. If you want to look at why SFWOA failed, realize they bought a wildlife park WITHOUT its number 1 attraction. shows that all three were relocated when the park closed, not part of SFWoA.

That article couldn't be any more biased against Cedar Fair. I get that CF was the last in a chain of bad decisions, but they alone are not responsible for the failures.

Those of you who are recounting watching the Shamu show at Six Flags are having memory issues too. All of the Killer whales were relocated to San Diego the year Sea World closed. If you want to look at why SFWOA failed, realize they bought a wildlife park WITHOUT its number 1 attraction. shows that all three were relocated when the park closed, not part of SFWoA.

SFWoA _did_ have a killer whale (just not a "Shamu") after the Sea World whales were removed - it was "Shouka" (that Wikipedia article is a bit wrong).

See -

@RT ; "Shouka" was the whale at SFWoA in 2003.

SFWoA did not have an orca in 2001, but it was able to obtain one for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. That said, I agree, SF managed the park terribly. The idea wasn't a bad one, but it was very poorly executed.

Also to correct the author, as someone who was acutely aware of daily attendance projections, SFWoA routinely underperformed expectations. There were only a few times that I remember (usually mid-summer Saturdays with specific advertised events like concerts) where the park was hitting or exceeding crowd expectations.

That's your opinion. I think the author lets CF off the hook too easily. It is obvious that CF explicitly purchased the park with the intent of shuttering it and "stripping it for parts." Disgusting, but true.

I would love to try to figure out how much it would be to rebuild. If Kentucky Kingdom can do it, why not Geauga Lake. This article both Sickens and Saddens me. As far as it being in the middle of Nowhere. That is true, but there was a City bus that took people to the location. Which made it great. I owned a seasons pass all 4 years it was SFWOA. I will and truly do miss that park. Who wants it back? How do we take control and get it back?

Unfortunately, there's nothing to get back. It would be one thing if the park was standing, abandoned, just waiting for someone to buy it and re-open it. That's not the case. Nothing is left. No rides. No food stands. No bathrooms. Nothing. It's a vacant lot. No doubt Cedar Fair wanted it that way, which is understandable. Why would they want to sell the park that could be competition to their own Cedar Point? Better to level it... :/

Geauga Lake was never competition for Cedar Point in my opinion. I always considered Geauga Lake a place to go that was closer than Cedar Point. My dad's shop picnic was there for several years after Idora Park in Youngstown closed. It was a park that I took my younger kids without having to pay Cedar Point prices.

:::sigh:::: In what realm was Geauga Lake EVER competition to Cedar Point? Never. No company is going to keep a business open that is losing money. It's sad, but it wasn't a competition thing. Ohioans didn't think of it that way. If you wanted a more family friendly place that was cheaper to take the kids you went to GL. If you wanted to leave the kids home and ride mind-blowing coasters you went to CP. We went to both about equally when we were kids. Six Flags ran the place into the ground. The last year they owned it it was almost like a ghost town. The rides were making noise. The grounds were already in horrible condition. Landscaping not being taken care of. That's what happens when you buy a park and then dump $40 million dollars into it right out of the gate. Cedar Fare couldn't recover it and people had already stopped going.

There are still sections of wooden roller coasters on the back side of the lake. Aurora and the Geauga lake site are not anymore located in the muddle of "nowhere" than cedar point us. Both are were destinations and geauga lake had better access to n.e.Ohio, central Ohio and western Penna. than cedar point. Don't believe for a minute that cedar faire didb"t buy it to shut down the competition..... I know thus for a fact!

I grew up going to Geauga Lake Park, what great memories I have as a child of my parents and friends who went there. As an adult I worked there also, one of my son's first job was working there. The town of Streetsboro build large hotels to hold all the visitors that came, only to have a greedy company shut the park down. Cedar Point is too far and too expensive to visit so we are left with no place to take our grand kids that is close. The property is left in terrible condition, shame on Cedar Fair for their part of the ending of a wonderful area resort.

I grew up going to Geauga Lake Park, what great memories I have as a child of my parents and friends who went there. As an adult I worked there also, one of my son's first job was working there. The town of Streetsboro build large hotels to hold all the visitors that came, only to have a greedy company shut the park down. Cedar Point is too far and too expensive to visit so we are left with no place to take our grand kids that is close. The property is left in terrible condition, shame on Cedar Fair for their part of the ending of a wonderful area resort.

Thanks for a great article. This makes me really sad. I have great memories there from my childhood. I visited Cleveland in July (after having moved years ago) with a friend, and we decided to do some exploring. Man was it sad for me to see a place I had grown up at so dilapidated and sad. We didn't get too far in because they had clearly just put up some new fencing (you could tell the old fencing had been broken through countless times), but what we did see was awful. Just barren and sad. We had a good time walking around and exploring, but it was definitely emotional for me. I would love to see it reopen one day, but it would really be more of a brand new park than a reopening. Nothing that's left there would really be usable (save for the Dipper which could probably be salvaged with a LOT of work and money). But if someone were to buy the land and open a park of any kind, it would be easy enough to design it in a way that favored the original. The entrance is still there, even though it's half torn down and very withered, but could easily be restored to it's former glory. I've always said they should just reopen it on a much smaller scale. Have the Dipper as the main attraction, some smaller rides, ferris wheels, etc. Game booths, good food, all that kind of stuff. Recreate that great walk way down the center with all the games and food that was so amazing back in the day. If someone was willing to do it, yes it would take a lot of money, but I think it would be a huge success and not all that difficult. The people of Cleveland would flock to it, not only out of nostalgia, but also just to stick it to Cedar Fair.

I visited this as a kid. Really enjoyed it when it was Worlds of Adventure. Sad to see it go.

I grew up in Twinsburg and loved going to Geauga Lake when I was in High School and college. I took my dates there and we had fun. Geauga Lake and Sea World was a us vs them mentality...why the two couldn't exist is due to greed, red tape and money. Instead of capitalizing on this wonderful gem it got bought out by another company and was ruined. As the saying goes the few ruin it for the vast majority. Also the human being is the cause and solution to all the worlds this case the reason why the park is empty!

One correction, Sea World was on the south shore the the lake, while the amusement park was in the north.

One correction, Sea World was on the south shore the the lake, while the amusement park was in the north.


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