HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — “They give a different ride.”
That’s what Elizabeth Ringas from Richmond, Virginia, a founding member of American Coaster Enthusiasts, likes about wooden roller coasters.
Once a staple of amusement parks, they continue to disappear from landscapes across the United States.
Still in operation at Huntington’s Camden Park, though, are the Big Dipper and Lil’ Dipper, considered ACE Coaster Classics, which are the reasons why Ringas and close to 200 other ACE members will be in Cabell County this Sunday.
The stop is a first for the American Coaster Enthusiasts Annual Preservation Conference at Camden Park following what will be two days at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Ky.
Each spring, conference attendees get together at different locations to promote coaster preservation and fun.
“We’re coming to recognize Camden Park for their success of four generations of operation of a family-owned park,” Ringas said of the Boylin Family, the park owners.
“They truly are a treasure what they bring to the area and we want to recognize them for their hard work because this is becoming unheard of, of these parks surviving so many generations.”
Camden Park started as a picnic area the Camden Interstate Railway created in 1903.
In 1950, J.P Boylin turned what was then a carousel at the end of a trolley line into an amusement park for Huntington.
It now features more than 30 attractions.
Among them is the Big Dipper which dates back to 1958 and will be named an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark during the ACE Preservation Conference.
The Lil’ Dipper was built in 1961.
“For families to come back and ride them with their kids after riding them as a child, we just love to hang on to that history that those wooden coasters are bringing there to Camden Park,” Ringas said.
Both of the coasters came from the National Amusement Device Company.
“There are very few left from that company,” explained Ringas.
“Their kiddie coaster, the Lil’ Dipper, is the only operating kiddie coaster or junior coaster built by National Amusement Device Company.”
She considers herself a coaster hobbyist and her kids — ages 16, 14 and 12 — are as well.
“Sometimes it’s about the rickety-ness. It’s about the ‘air time,'” Ringas said. “Wood is not created by us, but the design is, so what can we do with what nature gave us and give us such a fun thrill?”
American Coaster Enthusiasts is a nonprofit, volunteer organization with more than 5,000 members worldwide that has seen its membership grow in recent years.
“Getting to hold on to that history, that’s what it’s about,” Ringas said. “Wooden roller coasters truly preserve the origin and history of roller coasters.”