MUSKEGON — After two changes of ownership, a new name, and continued growth into the state’s largest amusement and water park, Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park’s history has been one of constant evolution since its beginning 50 years ago.
With a new water ride and new restaurant, and the possibility of large-scale expansion, the next 50 years of the Cedar Fair Parks amusement park should be just as exciting.
New for 2006 is the “Grand Rapids,” a 1,500-foot-long river ride that, at a cost of $5 million, is the largest capital expenditure the park has ever made. Nine-person rafts pass through canyon-like rapids, including geysers, a rocky waterfall and an observation platform equipped with water cannons where friends and family can drench those riding the Grand Rapids, said Camille Jourden-Mark, vice president and general manager. The ride was designed by IntaRide LLC, based in Maryland, and New York’s Glynn Geotechnical Engineering.
Jourden-Mark said she thought the regionally inspired name was fitting.
“We hope to get the Grand Rapids people really excited about it,” she said of the park’s No. 1 market area.
One benefit of the ride is that riders need to be only 42 inches tall to participate rather than 48 inches, allowing smaller children to ride with their families.
“It’s a serious addition as far as family attractions to the park,” she said.
A part of Cedar Fair Parks since 2001, the formerly family-owned amusement park has long been a summer destination for many in Michigan.
With its new restaurant, “Coasters,” Jourden-Mark said the park is acknowledging its 50th anniversary with a ’50s-themed diner. Decorated in bright pink and green and featuring waitresses in poodle skirts, the restaurant will offer a menu that includes hamburgers and fries, and will feature a jukebox and a view of Be-Bop Boulevard and classic cars on display outside.
“You’ll really feel like you’re going back to the ’50s,” Jourden-Mark said.
The restaurant has locations at other Cedar Fair Parks — Cedar Point in Ohio and Knott’s Berry Farm in California — where it has been well-received by guests, she said.
The limited operating time of the park, which is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day, allows for a great amount of improvements and preparation for the next season, Jourden-Mark said.
“It gives you a chance to really critique yourself,” she said.
Preparation usually involves the construction of new attractions, adding one or two every few years.
“That’s how this park was built,” she said. “It’s always been slow, steady growth.”
With 235 acres, more than half of which are not yet developed, Jourden-Mark said there is plenty of opportunity for expansion, especially since the park will be receiving a municipal water supply starting in May 2007.
“It gives us the ability to become a true destination with overnight accommodations,” she said.
Sam Wendling, community development director for the Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the park has a far-reaching effect on the area.
“Michigan’s Adventure is obviously a huge attraction to the area, second only to our Michigan beaches,” he said.
Wendling said with the new municipal water supply, he hopes the steady investment will continue.
“They’ve always operated on a private well,” he said. “We’re hoping there’ll be further and larger growth once the municipal water is there.”
After last year’s addition of the Funnel of Fear ride, Jourden-Mark said the park saw record attendance — up 18 percent from the previous year. Though the park does not release attendance numbers, Jourden-Mark said she attributes the growth to the unusually hot summer, as well as the new attraction.
“We couldn’t have picked a better season to put a water ride in,” she said.
Jourden-Mark has been a part of the park for 37 years. She was a 2-year-old when her father, Roger Jourden, bought Deer Park in 1968.
In 1988, the Wolverine Wildcat ride was opened and the park’s name was changed to Michigan’s Adventure. It was also the beginning of Jourden-Mark’s career with the park. When the new ride opened on the same day as her college graduation, she chose to be part of the press conference rather than walk with her graduating class.
“That was the year we were put on the map,” she said. “It was such a turning point for the park.”
Jourden-Mark worked at the park through the summer as her father requested — and then never left.
“It’s so much more than a job,” she said.
In 1990, Wildwater Adventure opened, bringing a whole new element to the park. Now the water park has three wave pools and 20 slides.
The amusement park has also grown, now featuring more than 60 rides and six roller coasters, including the internationally known wooden roller coaster, Shivering Timbers.
Though the biggest change took place when Cedar Fair Parks bought Michigan’s Adventure and Roger Jourden retired, Jourden-Mark said it has been a good transition.
Communication is encouraged between the Cedar Fair Parks, giving her a network of other park managers with whom to discuss issues or problems. Jourden-Mark said Michigan’s Adventure managers also visit other parks during the off-season in order to learn more about how the others operate.
“It was very exciting to be part of a company where there are so many opportunities to pick up the phone and get support and help,” she said.
Jourden-Mark’s three children also have grown up in the park.
“Just like it was a part of my life growing up, it was a part of theirs,” she said.
Her oldest son, Zach, will work at the park this summer and plans to pursue a career in amusement parks, though Jourden-Mark said she is not sure if he will stay at Michigan’s Adventure or go to a larger park.
Her husband, Steve, also works at the park as vice president of maintenance and construction. While Jourden-Mark and her husband previously both worked for her father, since Jourden’s retirement, Steve has had to call his wife “boss.” Jourden-Mark said the arrangement of working together has been fine. Although the park is no longer family-owned, she said the same commitment is still there.
“I feel tremendous ownership of the park, even though it’s not part of the family.”