Cover Story: Amusing Comeback

Americana reclaims its heritage as LeSourdsville Lake

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David Wasinger

Elephants and Workers are putting the final touches on reopening the venerable Americana Amusement Park.

Amusement park enthusiasts will have another place to get their thrills this year when the former Americana Amusement Park in Middletown reopens as LeSourdsville Lake: The Great American Amusement Park.

Park operators hope for an opening over Memorial Day weekend, but the opening might be delayed by improvements that still need to be completed.

It's not every day that an amusement park reopens after a three-year hiatus. In fact, according to Tim O'Brien, senior editor of Amusement Business magazine, Butler County's LeSourdsville Lake is the only formerly closed park that will be reopening this year.

Mike Mefford, marketing director at LeSourdsville Lake, says the name change in part has to do with the new "pay as you play" pricing system.

The gate fee at the park is now $3 per person, and patrons then pay for rides at an individual charge of $1 or $2 per ride. An all-day ride pass will be available for $14.95.

"The price being so low makes it really nice for families," Mefford says.

Parents can buy their kids the ride bracelet, he says, and if they want to join the kids for a roller coaster ride they can just buy the single ride ticket.

The park, built in 1922, has seen between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors per year in the past.

Six new rides will be opening with the reintroduction of the amusement park. Others will be brought on line throughout the summer.

Among the new rides will be a swinging pirate ship. The park will also feature the Zipper — a spinning ride that goes both forward and in reverse — and a version of bumper cars for young children.

Old favorites such as the Screechin' Eagle wooden roller coaster will be open as well. Built in 1927, the coaster marks its 75th anniversary this year.

"That makes it the second oldest roller coaster in Ohio and the 13th oldest in the country," Mefford says.

According to the Roller Coaster Database, there are 171 wooden roller coasters either operating or under construction in the world. The database says the world's longest wooden roller coaster is The Beast at Paramount's Kings Island, at 7,400 feet. The Screechin' Eagle, the database says, is 2,640 feet long.

The swimming pool at LeSourdsville Lake will be part of the admission fee.

"We will be having fireworks eight times throughout the summer," Mefford says.

There will be two sit-down restaurants at the park. One will serve Italian food as well as beer and wine. The second, according to Mefford, will serve steaks and hamburgers.

O'Brien says LeSourdsville Lake falls under the category of a traditional, classic amusement park. In the 1920s, he says, there were thousands of small amusement parks that sprung up next to lakes around the country.

Not many of those parks are left standing today.

In past years, O'Brien hasn't seen many traditional amusement parks close. When they start to struggle, he says, a larger amusement chain will usually come in and turn them around.

"There haven't been that many good, classic old parks like Americana that have bit the dust," O'Brien says.

He says he's glad to hear the park has been able to make a comeback.

"There's a strong need and a strong desire for a park like Americana," O'Brien says. "These parks really give an alternative to a community."

The Pugh Management Group in Lancaster, formerly of the carnival industry, manages the park.

"They're looking forward to the opportunity to stay in one place," Mefford says.

He's already been receiving calls from former patrons excited about the prospect of visiting the park again. People have told Mefford about receiving their first kiss at the park, meeting their spouse there or going to the park for prom dates.

"I've heard probably 100 different great stories from people about this place," he says. "It's kind of a neat old heritage here. It sounds like people are pretty excited to come back."

LeSourdsville Lake: The Great American Amusement Park is located at 5757 Middletown-Hamilton Road in Middletown. The tentative opening date is June 6, but call 513-539-2193 for an updated operating schedule.

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