Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Beach Waterpark: All Dried Up?



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The "stone" depiction of a fanged beast would seem to be the remnants of a forgotten civilization, but protruding through the "ancient" statue is a different kind of ruin: one of modern society. The fiberglass slide, dried up and leading to an empty pool, was once the signature attraction of a waterpark. Nestled between the interstate and McMansions of Cincinnati's affluent suburb of Mason, The Beach Waterpark sat quiet and empty on a hot summer day that would've normally seen the park full of visitors - and water. The guests were gone, so were the lifeguards and it's a local urban exploration tale that's been seen before. Unlike the previous instance though, this park may have some life left in it.




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- "Aztec Adventure," one of The Beach's signature
attractions.  The Beach media photo.
A rusted sign reading "Welcome to Paradise" hung above the road, but the locked vehicle gate beneath it, wasn't as welcoming. My guide, John Locke, brought me to see the closed park. It was immediately apparent that we weren't the first visitors to the abandoned park that season, vandals had already begun to take a toll. We were there only to take photographs.

Right across the highway, a larger and corporate backed waterpark was enjoying its first season after being freshly renovated the winter before. We stood in a smaller, once family owned park that had recently declared bankruptcy and laid off its entire staff. A waitress at a nearby restaurant had told us that the park's employees had been coming over to use the restrooms after the park's water had been shut off, shortly before the bankruptcy announcement. Tough times had come to The Beach, and now it laid as a ruin of first world society hidden in the woods of suburbia.


Locke, a former season passholder and once frequent guest of The Beach, began pointing out the park's landmarks to me as I cleaned the condensation off of my camera lenses and sweat off my forehead. We cautiously walked about, planning what would be photographed first. 
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The sight of the abandoned park was oddly familiar. It was reminiscent of another abandoned waterpark that once sat across town - the first place I ever trespassed in the name of photography: Surf Cincinnati.

- The ruins of Surf Cincinnati as seen in 2007.
Surf Cincinnati had become the Queen City's first waterpark in the early 80's. Surf's monopoly on water attractions was soon threatened by a rival as The Beach neared the completion of construction and opened in 1985. The Beach debuted in Mason just across the highway from the well established Kings Island Amusement Park that had stood there since 1972. The Beach offered something Kings Island didn't have at the time - a waterpark.

A type of amusement park centered on recreation swimming, waterparks typically feature pools, slides and other water based attractions. The construction boom of waterparks can be traced back to what is arguably the first modern one - Disney's River Country which debuted in 1976. Following River Country's opening, waterparks began springing up all over North America as independent operations and compliments to established regional parks. Kings Island countered their newfound next door neighbor in 1989 with their own waterpark, just four years after The Beach opened its gates.

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- The Beach under construction in 1984.
By the early 1990's, the Cincinnati market had three established waterparks. Surf Cincinnati was on the Northwestern side of town, while The Beach and Kings Island coexisted across from each other in the Northeast. The signature attractions of Surf Cincinnati and The Beach were their wave pools, large wading pools that varied in depth and used engines to generate waves similar to being at an oceanfront beach. Kings Island had lacked this type of attraction until it added its own wave pool in 1997 amongst the first of what would eventually be three large scale expansions.

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- The Beach souvenir stand.

The first park to fall would be Surf Cincinnati. While The Beach and Kings Island had continued to update their attractions and expand over the years, Surf Cincinnati fell behind and closed just before the 2002 season. Surf declared bankruptcy and didn't refund season passes purchased by park goers. In an attempt to attract new business, The Beach announced that their park would honor the Surf Cincinnati passes, a situation that would be eerily familiar ten years later.

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- The "Lazy Miami River" attraction devoid of water.

Two years after Surf Cincinnati's closure, Kings Island would expand and rebrand their waterpark for a second time. While Kings Island added new slides and more attractions, The Beach soldiered on in the face of growing competition. In 2005, The Beach added a new water slide for the first time in years - Volcanic Panic.

- March 2004 photo from The Mason Buzz, the caption reads: "Tara Nahrup, marketing manager at The Beach Waterpark in Mason, explains a model of the area for the new Volcanic Panic water attraction." Note that the new slide can been seen above the model of the park's wavepool which also received an overhaul. 

In 2006, my friend Jon and I hopped a fence into the ruins of Surf Cincinnati and began our foray into Urban Exploration. Meanwhile, things looked promising for The Beach as they announced they had purchased used water slides from Wyandot Lake, a park just up the highway in Columbus, to be used in a future expansion.

- Used slides purchased by The Beach were supposed to be part of a future expansion, but resided in a "graveyard" near the parking lot until the park announced its closure in 2012.

The "new" slides never came though as they laid in an overgrown field just beyond the The Beach's parking lot. Despite The Beach's lack of newer attractions and a large selection of roller coasters and rides, the park still offered many amenities that its corporate neighbor across the highway didn't.

- Promotional photo from The Beach showing off its "Dive-In Movie" event.
Unlike the vast concrete walkways of Kings Island's waterpark, The Beach was tucked into a shady area in the woods. Real palm trees, real sand, volleyball courts and the family-run, local park atmosphere were all points highlighted in The Beach's "come to The Beach" television commercials. Special events like "Dive-In Movies," which allowed you to watch a feature film while relaxing in the pool, and "bring your dog" day couldn't be found at the nearby competitor park. The Beach also offered a winter festival complete with ice skating, toboggans and sleigh rides that was a favorite event of mine to treat my little cousins to. In 2010, the Beach was credited as "the best privately owned waterpark" by Aquatics International, a trade publication.

- Television advertisement for The Beach.

During the summer of 2011, Kings Island announced what would be the third expansion of its waterpark, the second expansion in just eight years.  Kings Island planned to double the size of its waterpark, add luxury cabanas, install a second wave pool and pump in an additional $10 Million in improvements - an expansion dubbed "Soak City." I first heard rumors of The Beach's demise later that year after both parks had closed for the season.

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- Perhaps a more fitting sign would be one that reads: "Park temporarily closed."

I was on my way back to Cincinnati coming down I-71 after a Blue Jackets game in Columbus. I stopped off at the exit for the parks to get gas. When I walked into the convenience store, I saw my friend Jenny working there. After chatting for awhile, we began to discuss how The Beach hadn't opened for its annual winter event. She informed me of rumors she had heard about the park's closing.

As Spring approached, another rumor came my way. According to an anonymous source, Herschend Entertainment was interested in purchasing The Beach. Based out of Norcross, GA, Herschend is a family owned business that operates 26 tourism attractions, its most notable being the Dollywood amusement and water park in Pigeon Forge, TN. Interestingly enough, many executives with Herschend were once full time employees at Kings Island. According to the same source, the Herschend deal fell through. Shortly after, The Beach announced it was filing for bankruptcy and would not open for the 2012 season.

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- A pathway at The Beach.

About a month before the park and its renovated rival, Soak City, were set to open, The park's owners told The Cincinnati Enquirer that "a challenging competitive and economic climate and changing patron entertainment habits" were responsible for the decision. Rising maintenance costs and declining attendance were also given as reasons for the park's closure.

Employees who had been gearing up to begin training for their usual summer job were suddenly without one. News from The Beach continued to get worse when the park announced that it would not be able to refund patrons who pre-purchased their season passes. Much like how The Beach honored the closed Surf Cincinnati's passes ten years earlier, Kings Island put forward a deal offering a free ticket to The Beach pass holders who wouldn't be getting a refund. Despite Kings Island's gesture, many pass holders were not amused and began contacting the state's attorney general.

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- A pair of racing slides at The Beach.
On May 25th, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine announced that he would be prosecuting the owners and operators of The Beach for failing to refund the season passes. The story in the local media shifted from one about the unfortunate closure of a family business, to a government official standing up for consumers. It all turned to bad publicity for The Beach, but whether it was just Dewine's political grandstanding or not is up for interpretation,  (According to the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts website, the lawsuit was dismissed on September 11th, 2012).

As the story faded, Kings Island debuted its new Soak City. The Beach sat across the highway quiet and empty. Locke and I stood on a bridge overlooking the empty trough of the park's lazy river. The water was gone, replaced by leaves that had fallen off the trees the Fall before. Unlike Surf Cincinnati, The Beach had only been standing abandoned for a short time. Evidence of vandalism could be seen in some spots, but for the most part it seemed the park could just flip a switch and be open the next day. In the summer heat, the lack of water and relaxing park goers was a surreal sight.

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ABOVE: A promotional photo of the park's "lazy river" attraction.
BELOW: The "lazy river" in its abandoned state.

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ABOVE: A promotional photo of one of the park's pools.
BELOW: The pool as it appeared void of water and landscaping.

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ABOVE: A promotional photo showcasing one of the park's water play sets.
BELOW: That same play set in its abandoned state.

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The lifeguards were permanently off duty, not that it mattered. I don't think we were going to slip and drown in the puddles that had formed in the mostly empty pools. Just a year ago, guests would've been enjoying the final hours of a day at the park as the sun began to set.

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- Lifeguard chair and slides.


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- Entrance to one of the children's areas of the park.


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- Children's area.

The sounds of laughter and splashing were now long gone, the only thing to be heard was the sound of the camera's shutter. As we climbed up one of the empty slides, we came across a peculiar sight - the wreckage of a plane crash.

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- A wrecked plane used as a theming element on one of The Beach's attractions.

The plane crash however was just a thematic prop. When the park was open, the plane wreckage featured a fog machine to make it appear as if the aircraft had crashed on a remote desert island. In September 2011, a passing motorist spotted the wreckage from the highway and alerted the police, mistaking it for an actual plane crash. A search of the airplane's tail number through Federal Aviation Administration records shows that the aircraft's last owner lived in Morriston, Florida. How it got to The Beach, I have no idea.

Leaving the crash site, we trekked through the woods on some of the park's maintenance paths. There, we came across something familiar.

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- Slide pieces from Surf Cincinnati, another abandoned waterpark, laying in a back area of The Beach. The Beach purchased the slides shortly after Surf Cincinnati's closure in 2002.

Overgrown by brush and stacked on top of each other were the fiberglass shells of two water slides. These slides had been purchased by The Beach from Surf Cincinnati after that water park had closed in 2002. The Beach repurposed the slides as toboggan track for the park's winter event. Here they were, ten years later, once again in an abandoned waterpark.

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- An operator panel on one of the park's slides.

Near one of the slides, we came across the operator panel once used by employees to operate the ride. As someone who once worked at Kings Island for several seasons, I wondered what it must've felt like for The Beach employees that didn't get to return for one more season. When working at an amusement park, my coworkers were like a second family. I loved my job and looked forward to going back to it every Spring. I can't imagine what it would feel like to hear at the last minute that your job didn't exist anymore.

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- Closed water slides.


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- Signs that once directed guest's through the woods to attractions.


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- A rope bridge that leads to one of the children's areas.

Aside from the occasional leaves and murky water, the park seemed like it had just closed in the middle of the afternoon, turned off the water slides and sent everyone home.

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- The top of a water slide that was usually filled with clean and chlorinated water, now hosts leaves and mud.


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- A bar where nothing is on tap.

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- Lifeguard chair overlooking the empty wave pool.

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- Overview of the park as seen from the wave pool.

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- One of the park's eateries.

Looking up at the waters slides snaking through the trees, I began to wonder what fate The Beach would hold. Would it meet the same fate as Surf Cincinnati - overgrown, rotting, half destroyed and eventually demolished for a mega-church? Would someone step in to take it over and re-open it? Was it worth saving? Could it overcome the negative press received in the wake of its closure?

We slipped back through the fence from where we entered, strolled passed the weeds growing through cracks in the empty parking lot and bid farewell to The Beach as the sun lowered beyond the horizon.

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While many aspects of The Beach's closure paralleled the demise of Surf Cincinnati, The Beach would get something Surf Cincinnati never had: a second chance.

In August 2012, after sitting idle the whole summer, The Beach announced that it would be reopening in 2013. Adventure Holdings LLC, an operator of various tourist attractions across four states, was named as the park's new operator. In a press release were plans for a new name: "The Beach at Adventure Landing," and $1 Million in improvements including four new slides, a new kids area and a new wave pool. Adventure Holdings signed a lease to operate The Beach for one year, with the option to purchase the property after that season. The park also intends to honor the 2012 passes that it originally couldn't refund.

After as season of abandonment, can The Beach bounce back? The park's previous statement of a "challenging competitive climate" surely must have been acknowledging the expansion of Kings Island's water park nearby. Will new improvements be enough to compete and is $1 Million really enough to fund all the announced improvements? Will the out of luck pass holders from 2012 return in 2013? Will the employees come back? Will the new operators purchase the park and keep it open after their one year lease?

While much about The Beach's future in uncertain and little news has trickled out since the August announcement, one thing seems certain: the abandoned water park in the suburban woods will be getting at least one more summer of life.


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- The Beach's main competitor, Kings Island, as seen through the supports of a water slide at the closed Beach.

More articles and photography of abandoned amusement parks as featured on Queen City Discovery:

Surf Cincinnati
- Americana/Lesourdsville Lake
- Fun Spot Amusement Park and Zoo
- Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom
- Belle Isle Children's Zoo

7 comments:

  1. Man, that is rough if the water is turned off at The Beach of all places.

    Maybe Kings Island can buy it out after 2 years and name it "Paramount's Kings Island's The Beach at Adventure Landing of Mason, OH a suburb of Cincinnati".

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    1. Haha, I don't think that name would fly.

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  2. Bonus points for the Oceanic logo you snuck in there.

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    1. Haha, I'm glad someone caught that. Originally when I shot these photos, I posted them soon after on a message board where I didn't want people to know what the name of the place was. At that site I posted larger photos and put the oceanic logo on there to cover up the sign. I forgot about that and just resized them for this site.

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  3. Nice update Ronny. I really hope the Beach comes back. My family and I much prefer it compared to KI's water park. I think if they can tap into that "mom and pop" feel again, they will be good to go.

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    1. I think they can make it a success. One of the great things about it is that it isn't as crowded as Kings Island, has shade and you're not bombarded by upselling and luxury items. I think there's a market for The Beach, they just need to cater to it.

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  4. I'm curious how did the grand reopening go!?

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