I remember well my first trip to Camden Park. It was in the summer of 1979. I had just started my job as city editor of what was then known as the Ashland Daily Independent — or ADI — in February of that year, and I was still getting to know the area.
My oldest son was 12 and would be in the seventh grade at Coles Junior High School that fall. My daughter had just turned 2. My wife was pregnant with our youngest son, but she was not really showing on that summer day. I still had a full head of hair.
What had brought the family to Camden Park that day was the ADI’s annual family day and picnic. The Independent was an afternoon paper in those days, and the entire newspaper had closed up shop soon after the day’s edition had “hit the streets” and headed off for the amusement park across the Big Sandy River in West Virginia.
Ahh, those were the days. Everyone from the lowest paid part-time employee in the mailroom to the top executives went to the picnic, and it was the one day of the year when we got to have fun and mingle with our families. On that day, I met the spouses and the children and sometimes grandchildren of the people I had been working with for the past few months. As I remember it, the weather was hot, but the skies were clear.
At first, my oldest son and I rode the big rides while my wife and daughter walked around the kiddie area. My son and I rode the Big Dipper, the Scrambler, the Roundup and a few other rides (the Log Flume did not exist then). After a while, I told my eldest that I needed to help Mom with his baby sister. We went our separate ways. Later on, we all met and had a great meal of really unhealthy but delicious food. I loved it.
I was reminded of that day last Wednesday when I returned to Camden Park for the first time in probably 25 years. This time I was with a large group from our church, but my special assignment that day was my 3-year-old granddaughter, the youngest child of my daughter.
We had taken Brooklyn and her family to Holiday World in Santa Claus. Ind., en route to a family reunion last summer, but this was her first trip to Camden Park. While you can’t compare Camden Park with Holiday World, Brooklyn had a great day at an amusement park less than a 30-minute drive from home.
My day at the park with Brooklyn also was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. I swear she rode some of the same kiddie rides that her mother rode during her first trip to Camden Park 34 years ago. In fact, the first ride we went on was the Haunted House. After getting seated in the car, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Suppose she became frightened or hated it? Would she ride on anything else?
I need not have worried. She was not the least bit frightened. Then we rode the carousel. At first, I was just going to stand by the horse Brooklyn was riding, but I finally decided to mount the horse beside her. What can I say? At nearly 65, there must still be a little boy locked inside me somewhere. Before the end of the day, we must have ridden the merry-go-round at least 15 times.
I had forgotten how easy it can be to entertain a 3-year-old girl. There was one ride that was just a bunch of different vehicles that went around and around in the circle. It looked boring to me, but Brooklyn rode the motorcycle, the fire engine, the bus and then the motorcycle again. Because the park was not crowded, the operator let her continue to stay on the ride and simply move to another vehicle when the ride stopped.
I confess to being a little deceptive with my granddaughter. You had to be at least 48 inches tall to ride most of the rides for the older kids, and Brooklyn is not that tall. So I told her she had to ride the rides for the little ones. What I did not tell her is that she could have ridden any ride in the park if I accompanied her. That’s because I did not want to vomit in front of my granddaughter after getting sick from riding around in circles. Even the Big Dipper did not appeal to me. We did ride what must be the world’s slowest train, and I forced Brooklyn to ride the skylift that goes across the park. It is not my favorite attraction, but I desperately needed a rest period and the tip on the skylift provided it.
Despite her reluctance, as we rode the skylift, Brooklyn said, “It’s really beautiful up here.” That made me smile, even though I considered her comment the result of a rather loose definition of beautiful, but as they say, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
After nearly six hours, we climbed back into the church van for the trip back to Ashland. Brooklyn, safely strapped into her booster seat, was asleep before we left the park’s parking lot.
It costs a lot more to go the Camden Park today than it did in 1979, but it is much, much cheaper than a trip to King’s Island or Holiday World. And for preschoolers, there are just as many fun rides to ride at Camden Park as there are at King’s Island. Dollar for dollar, I think Camden Park is a better deal for the little ones.
And where else can my granddaughter ride the exact same rides as her mother did? There are enough newer rides at Camden Park to keep it interesting, but in many ways, the park had not changed much in the past half century. As an oldtimer, that’s what I like most about it.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.