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Wildwater Kingdom (2008 – 2016)

While the former Six Flags side of Geauga Lake lay overgrown and entirely bulldozed, the water park that Cedar Fair had built over the remains of the SeaWorld side did continue along, re-opening in 2008 as GEAUGA LAKE'S WILDWATER KINGDOM – its name as a supposed testament to the former park. It contained one multi-slide complex, one ProSlide Tornado, a water play fortress, a lazy river, and a wave pool.

The diminutive park never got its Phase II expansion. Even the Happy Harbor area that had shared its side of the lake – above, the only remnant of SeaWorld – was demolished. Why the water park couldn’t have made use of the climbing nets, 4D theatre, motion simulator, and family flat rides, we may never know.

They, too, were obliterated (see below) apparently just so that the empty lot could be fenced off to become overgrown. Why that would be preferred to a climbing area and family flat rides, who could say? 

For eight years, the diminuitive, tiny water park continued to operate (and for a very short time each year, given Ohio's cool springs and autumns), its only addition ever being The Beach - Family Fun Area, with giant chess pieces and beanbag toss games. Year after year, the park went without sizable investment – a sure signal of its priority. (And to be fair, Wildwater Kingdom was the only standalone water park left in Cedar Fair's portfolio, the rest having been sold off one-by-one in the 2010s).

Anyway, the park got its seventh name change when the wound-opening “Geauga Lake’s” prefix was dropped in 2011. WILDWATER KINGDOM continued to operate, without a single a new addition since 2006’s wave pool. 

And imagine it: To get to Wildwater Kingdom, guests followed signs to Geauga Lake (ouch), joined a few dozen other cars in SeaWorld's old parking lot, built for thousands (ouch), would pass through the front gate and entry boulevard that had been SeaWorld's entrance for decades, now devoid of its iconic dolphin water fountain (ouch), and gaze across the lake at the single feature that could be seen there – the Big Dipper – where once a skyline of 100-foot roller coasters stretched across the entire lakeshore (ouch). 

It was just... sad. 

Then, on August 19, 2016, Cedar Fair pulled the plug. After trying for years and years to sell the abandoned amusement park side of the property, they announced that they'd worked closely with the city and township to determine that for any of the property to move forward, the entire property needed to be redeveloped, adding that "[a]fter examining its long-range plans, Cedar Fair has determined that the time is right to begin this transition..." In layman's terms, after its seasonal closure on September 5, 2016 Wildwater Kingdom would never re-open. And that was that.

It's no doubt that in the decade it stood alone, Wildwater Kingdom became its own destination for local families and inspired new memories for a new generation. And for that generation, another round of mourning begins. 

Inexplicably thrust from a family amusement park to a mega, world-class theme park and back again, the little local water park that remained wouldn't return in 2017. Wildwater Kingdom – all that remained of Geauga Lake's 130 year history – was sunk. 

Imagine if you will…

In 2001, Ohio was home to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. A dozen innovative and record-breaking coasters, a full marine life park with killer whales, dolphins, penguins, sharks, and tigers, a charming Looney Tunes children’s land, and a full Hurricane Harbor water park. Just seven years later, it was gone. Completely gone. Barely a single shred of it remains. Practically no evidence that the land was anything but a vacant lot.

Once in a while, people will circulate petitions try to bring back Geauga Lake, no doubt expecting that it could one day see a Kentucky Kingdom style rebirth. "Re-open Geauga Lake!" they announce. Amusement park fans ask, "Reopen what?" There's barely anything left of the "Wild Rides" side of the park. Concrete footers sunken into the swampy lake, a few sheds with every piece of copper and plumbing pulled out, broken brick paths, and a 91 year old roller coaster that's been standing but not operating for a decade – arguably unsalvagable... The property is dead. Wiped clean. 

You can no doubt imagine why locals still curse Cedar Fair and its then-CEO Dick Kinzel as a greedy expletive who bought Six Flags Worlds of Adventure, maliciously intending to close it to eliminate Cedar Point’s competition. Many believe that he planned from the beginning to use Geauga Lake as spare parts, distributing its rides to the chain's other parks with no care for its history or value in the local economy.

Of course, we can’t say for sure that the intentions of Cedar Fair were nefarious. Can we agree that they overreacted by shutting the entire place down when the chain operates parks that are fractions of the size and scope and never seems to deem them unfit for operation? Probably. And should they have closed the park for the season, then immediately announced, “Oh, by the way, it’s closed forever?” Definitely not. It was a bad decision at a different time by different management.

Anyway, over more than 130 years and through seven name changes, Geauga Lake went from a timeless family amusement park to an international theme park packed with killer whales, ski shows, record-breaking coasters, dark rides, simulators, dolphins, water slides, and super heroes! Who could ever have guessed that that mega-park – a combined Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor, and SeaWorld – would just a few years later become this...

... before even that disappeared forever.

What – or who – is to blame? We'll dissect the reasons behind the park's death on the last page. Read on...

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Comments

This was a very well-written article, and while I agree with most of it, there are a few points the author, Brian, missed the mark on a little.

First, while I do admit it's not near Cleveland, it's also not in the middle of Ohio Amish country. Maybe 120 years ago it was, but certainly not since the 70's and 80's. But King's Island isn't really in Cincinnati, it's in Mason, about 25 miles away. And Cedar Point is over an hour from either of the largest cities it's closest to, Toledo or Cleveland.

Also, as far as ease of access, it's about 10-15 minutes from I-271 and I-480, or US 422, to get there. For comparison's sake, the closest freeway to Cedar Point is OH-2, and anyone that's driven in over the lakeside causeway by the homes knows that it's about 15-20 minutes to get to the park. I-80's about the same distance away. And the roads to Cedar Point from the east are mostly two lanes as well.

But the biggest thing that led to the demise of the park was the acquisition by Six Flags. At the time they took over, it was great getting all the shiny new roller coasters, but they did it at the expense of the older rides that everyone loved. The Big Dipper, the Double Loop, those became afterthought coasters. And things like the monorail, the dodgems, the Musik Express, they weren't maintained. So you'd go there wanting to ride some of the older, smaller rides (rather than wait in two hour lines for the new coasters) and those rides were closed.

And Six Flags lost all the charm that the park had when it was Geauga Lake. When Geauga Lake was still running, it was one of the cleanest parks in the country. Six Flags didn't care about that. They used to run specials, that after 5:00 you could get in the park for $10. So from 5-10, you could get in a full day's ride for about half the price. And they'd usually stop charging for parking around 6. My grandparents used to go later in the day just to walk around, because the grounds were beautiful. Where the Double Loop was, in the Western Village, everything was lined with trees, the flowers were always well-maintained, even the bathrooms were clean. When it was too hot, you ducked into the Fascination parlor to enjoy the AC and maybe win a prize or two playing the game!

I remember the year the Wave Pool opened at Geauga Lake, and what a big deal that was. You didn't get a new coaster every year, you got new smaller rides that everyone could enjoy. You didn't have rides that were height-restricted.

In reading this article, when you look at the other parks that Premier Parks or Six Flags or Cedar Fair owned: Elitch Gardens, Darien Lake, Wyandot Lake, and so on; and only Geauga Lake really fell victim to the bad management of Six Flags and Cedar Fair.

But Cedar Fair's biggest disservice was the way it closed the park. It was the fact that no one from Northeast Ohio got to say goodbye, and even to this day if you drive past, you see the reminders of what was, like a graveyard of childhood memories: the Big Dipper still standing, the old Dance Hall right alongside the road, even the entrance still standing. I can't remember how many times I went through those turnstiles as a kid. I'm only 36, and I started going there in the early 80's. My entire childhood right up through high school was spent there in the summers. And not being able to say goodbye was worse than anything else that either parent company ever did.

In reply to by Jason (not verified)

i love what you said here...i always think i should drive by and see what it looks like all abandoned and empty but so much of my youth was spent there with soo many amazing memories i know that i would shed a tear....i wish i could have known that my last time there was my last time there....but maybe its better not knowing...it would have made it a sad day instead of another fun summer day spent with family at geauga lake!!

This is so disheartening. I was employed with Geauga Lake in customer service. Some of my closest friends worked here with me. It was a beautiful park and close enough for many families to travel to without having to travel for hours.I get chills when i see what it has become. So many good times there. Schools used to do field trips here.Sad to see our landmark gone like a ghost.

Out of curiosity, I just checked the current season ticket price for "Wildwater Kingdom". It's about 65 dollars for that tiny water park. Appalling. I remember paying under 50 dollars for the season ticket back in the early 2000s when it was Worlds of Adventure and offered so much more.

In reply to by Tiffany (not verified)

The waterpark price is less expensive than buying a pass to my local pool. To me, the price is perfect for my family, since they have more to do than the local pool. The payment plan available is a nice option they give you also.

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