Article by Michael Burkes, Photos by Michael Burkes and Bob Kilner

Traveling east on Interstate 64 or south on State Route 52, you come to Huntington, West Virginia.  The city of nearly 50,000 people has a hilly terrain, curvaceous roads and beautiful scenery. In other words, paradise for a photographer like me.

Within the realms of this region lies the state’s only amusement park.  Like Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut, this park is/was a trolley park.  However, instead of being at the end of the line, this park was unusual in that it was built where riders traveling between Huntington and nearby cities would stop to change lines.  It has been around for over 115 years and you will know when you have arrived when you see a huge clown entrance sign point the way to the parking lot. With rides, picnics and fun for all, you have arrived at Camden Park.


Camden Park was established as a picnic spot by the Camden Interstate Railway Company and is named after former West Virginia Senator Johnson N. Camden.  The park’s first mechanical ride was a carousel that was built around 1903. In 1912, the first roller coaster was added. After a couple of owners came and went, Camden came into the hands of J. P. Boylin, whose family continues to operate the park and its attractions to this day.  The facility boasts more than 30 rides and attractions and features a variety of events throughout its season, including “Hot Summer Nights” concert series, “Children’s Fest” and Coca Cola days, just to name a few.

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The main reason that many visit Camden Park are for the coasters.  There are only three and while not that large, two of them are of significant importance.  These three coasters are the Big Dipper, the Lil’ Dipper and Slingshot. Two wood and one steel.  

The Big Dipper, Camden’s prize possession came on the scene in 1958. It replaced the first coaster at the park after it was torn down a year prior.  It is one of only three National Amusement Devices coasters still in existence. Like Thunderbolt at Kennywood, it features Century Flyer cars with working headlights and the coaster follows a classic figure-eight design.  The single train is three coaches long which can hold a maximum of six riders each, for a maximum of eighteen riders per dispatch. The ride’s name refers to the large initial dip after the first turnaround that measures the full height of the coaster.  There is a second shallower dip that leads to a long, enclosed tunnel from which the train emerges shortly before returning to the loading station.


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The Lil’ Dipper was also manufactured by National Amusement Devices.  It has one train with five coaches that can each hold two riders, for a maximum of ten riders per dispatch.  The structure itself is made of steel but the track is wood. If any of the old heads in this club remember, the defunct Geauga Lake had a similar model in their Kiddieland many years ago.  


The last coaster is Slingshot.  Manufactured by the SBF Visa Group, this model is a figure-eight spinning coaster.  Similar models can be found at parks like Beech Bend and Silverwood.


A fun fact about Camden Park that might be of interests to many Ohio coaster enthusiasts – Kings Island’s famous shuttle loop coaster known as “Screamin’ Demon” and later just “Demon” was relocated to Camden Park after being taken out of Kings Island in 1987. It was one of the first shuttle loop coasters that went forward and backward through a 360-degree loop.  It opened for the 1988 season next to the Skyliner Sky Ride and lasted for 11 seasons before it had to close permanently due to a circuit board malfunction.

In addition to coasters, Camden Park offers a decent selection of flat rides and children’s rides, many of which are of a vintage nature. Those rides include a Whip, Tilt-a-Whirl, Paratrooper, Dodgems, Scrambler and Flying Scooters.  The ride lineup also includes a miniature train, log flume, carousel, and haunted house, which is one of two gravity-fed pretzel rides remaining in the United States.

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So, if you happen to be traveling to or passing through West Virginia on an amusement park excursion, stop on in to Camden Park.  Don’t worry, it won’t bite you. It will be nice to venture out of your comfort zone and realize not every amusement park has to be so huge and overwhelming in order to have a good time.  Remember big things do come in small packages.