Action Park was an amusement park that every kid growing up in New Jersey within the past 20 years probably has a scar from. It was located in the northwestern town of Vernon, New Jersey, situated on Mount Vernon. Like most mountains in Jersey, it wasn't tall, but it was sufficiently steep to provide a challenge to park visitors. It was also sufficiently steep to allow the park to convert to a ski resort in the winter.

Like clockwork, someone would drown in the wave pool every summer. Unlike Roller Coaster Tycoon, visitors still flocked to the park in droves. Its appeal is a mystery to outsiders but every New Jerseyean knows what I'm talking about.

Action Park was a paradox of evolution. Many rides required a sled or tube you had to retrieve yourself. With a finite supply, you'd either have to convince a previous rider to give his or her tube to you, or find one too dazed/injured to complain when you just grab it. You would then have to lug this thing up the 45 degree, simmering, sun-drenched concrete incline for several hundred feet to the ride's entrance, a true test of survival of the fittest. Once at the top, visitors would then defy the evolutionary principle of self-preservation and hurl him or herself down the death trap at Mach 3.

Many of the water slides emptied into pools of standing water. So after the 20 foot drop from the end of the slide, you got greeted by inordinate amounts of algae.

When solo endangerment was not enough, you could take all your family and friends on the Colorado River Ride. It was a simulation of river rapids that included pretty much the same chances of death and injury.

Inexplicably, there was a German brewery and bakery in the middle of the park.

For the less brave, there was a normal, large pool next to a concrete beach. Most parents would stay here while their children marched off like lemmings. Still, even this was no sanctuary, for above the pool was a cliff. The braver kids would jump off the cliff and into the pool. Many an unwary wader would serve as cushioning for cannonballs.

The park wasn't just water rides. One of the main attractions was the Alpine Slide (my personal favorite). It was a bunch of concrete tracks that twisted and turned down the mountain. To go down the tracks, you needed a sled. This sled was essentially a small plastic board with wheels on it, and a rather ineffective "brake." If you were a kid who didn't know physics or had a brake failure, you'd be one of the kids who'd take a turn at a gazillion miles per hour and fly off the track and land onto the grass and/or sharp rocks.

All the rides essentially used gravity to send you down and luck to keep you from dying. Somehow, this hotbed of possible lawsuits managed to survive until it closed sometime in 1998 or 1999. It went under "new management" and is now known as Mountain Creek Water and Gravity Park. The owners vow safety as their top priority.

This physical manifestation of extreme danger is no more, a sign of America's ever-increasing introversion. Action Park was a communal festival; you shared the danger and your injuries with those around you. These days, you turn on the telly and live vicariously through others. Theme parks today are sanitized, with hordes of structural engineers checking and double-checking rides. No longer are rides constructed by trial-and-error. America has lost its competitive spirit, its desire for adventure, stuck in a quagmire of litigation. When Action Park closed, so died the images of cowboys on the western frontier; a new chapter in America's history has begun.

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