"Winter is coming." Those with some degree of social awareness know the phrase as it relates to HBO's hit show Game of Thrones and the related series of fantasy novels. It is also a stark (rimshot) reminder to us of the impending conclusion of summer and even the short nature of autumn in Michigan. Winter comes abruptly around these parts and proceeds to last what seems like years. Before the darkness and cold comes, we try to wring all the fun out of the warm seasons that we can.
We are, being realistic here, at the end of the amu***t park and fair season in Michigan. The only significant amu***t park in the state, Michigan's Adventure, closes for the season effective September 9th, and most of the carnival companies that serviced the region are sending units south to the Carolinas, Florida, and even as far as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Time running out at a worrying pace.
My wife was actually the one who suggested going to the Allegan County Fair. She remarked it was the last fair she enjoyed, and thus still has positive feelings about it. She went right after coming home from working at Six Flags New England back in 2004, so it had been a few years, but she mentioned a historical village and trees making the place different. I never need to be sold on a carnival, so a plan was hatched to go both there and to the forlorn and most awful of the Cedar Fair parks, what is our "home park", Michigan's Adventure in a single day.
After a relaxed drive southwest into an area we frankly knew nothing about, we arrived in Allegan, MI and followed the signs to the fairgrounds. Honestly, the fairgrounds is closer to residential areas than I can remember any other similar fairgrounds being. It seems like you're going down a simple road filled with homes when suddenly signs jump out suggesting the directions to the entrance. The entry area itself (at least from the direction we entered) featured adorable rock structures and "open" signs done with neon, along with an enormous chicken statue. There indeed were some trees around, which was reassuring. After paying $15 ($5 for the car, $5 per *** for entry), we drove into the lower parking lot to drop off our vehicle. I say "lower" because the entire thing seems to be built on tiers cut into a hillside. The lowest lot is the closest to the wetlands surrounding the place. To get to the fair, one has to climb stairs. This is not typical anywhere, much less a state as topographically challenged as Michigan.
Arriving in the fair itself, it is clear why Meredith liked this one and not, oh, any of the others. There's quite a few really attractive permanent structures and gobs and gobs of trees. I mean, tons. Most fairs we go to we find shade to be rare, if not non-existent. Combined with the cool air and spotty cloud cover, and it felt like Fall. It brought me back to memories of the fair I most often went to as a adolescent/kid in Connecticut out in Hebron. You seek emotional tugs like that in life, and rarely find it. Here it was.
The rides were provided by Skerbeck Brothers Shows, who we've encountered many many times over the years in a vast assortment of places. We've seen their rides both near us in East Lansing and as far away as Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula, so there's a lot of familiarity with them. The lineup here was missing the Chance Toboggan I expected to see. Not that I wanted to ride it (I don't really like them), but I kinda find it amazing and great that they still transport that damn thing when everyone else in the US traded it in. The Mulligan Wheel was there, along with:
Mulligan Sea Ray, Gravitron, ARM Vertigo, ARM Super Shot, Loop-O-Plane, Spider, Cliff Hanger, Majestic Scooters, Zipper, Alpine Bobs, Eli Wheel, Apple Go Round, German Fun House, Glass House, ***, Super Slide, lots of kiddie rides; most notable of which are the Orient Express coaster and Central Park (antique cars)
Enough about the rides though, back to the grounds. We did a tour of the main midways before heading into the various exhibit buildings. While not as grandiose as what you'd find at Ionia with the Free Fair, the buildings are functional and seem to actually contain things to look at. The themed rooms done by various local organizations and usual 4H insanity kept us entertained for a few minutes, but we were more interested by the absolutely otherworldly placement of food booths inside many of the structures. There was a small diner with stools set up in one of the 4H areas that I've already determined I will eat pie in next year. Over in one of the two sheds intended to house antique farm equipment we found cider and donuts. There was a small restaurant serving very cheap food inside of the Historical Village. Oh, there's that too, isn't there?
There's a lot of facilities in Michigan that offer various historical village setups. Even near us in Meridian Township exists one that's combined with a small Native American Museum (we eat lunch there from time to time). Allegan County Fairgrounds incorporates one into the larger fairgrounds and it's obviously a shining jewel for them. Volunteers act out and give interpretive talks in the buildings, there's crafts to sell in many of them, and that restaurant I mentioned earlier too. To have this part of the $5 admission is really a heckuva bonus.
After stops for snacks - we weren't going to pass up the cider and donuts with this emotionally attached fall feel, you know? - I strong armed us for our one ride of the day on the Ferris Wheel. Hey, we got our own car, which is a small victory, and it went around and around and that was that. Cost was basically $4 per person, which in the grand scheme of things seems like a lot for a single ride on a ferris wheel, but you know, where are there tons of cheap 90ft ferris wheels? OK, Knoebel's has a cheaper Mulligan Wheel. Ultimately nothing really called out to me demanding to ride it, so I didn't. That's okay though - I don't always need to ride things to enjoy myself, and my wife certainly doesn't either. We weren't thinking to make this a festival of flat rides anyways.
We only spent 2 hours there but it was enough to convince us it would be worth more focus the following year and a return visit. The grounds remind me of Knoebel's. I hate saying that because it is a cheesy thing to do, but honestly what is there seems to have had the park and buildings grow around it rather than be plotted out on paper by some master creator of lots. I guess kudos to whoever had to figure out where stuff went, because honestly on the Mulligan Wheel, looking straight down, it is basically impossible to see almost any of the kiddie rides.
We bid Allegan adieu and began another long, hour plus drive to our next destination for the day - the yearly visit to Michigan's Adventure. I look forward to it with some fiber of my being as much as I know how much I will loathe it to a nearly atomic level. The park is home to a ride that is conceptually very good (Shivering Timbers). I mean, it conceptually very, very good. Essentially it is the best possible classic out and back wood coaster in the world if it works correctly and runs well. If. If is important. That particular coaster also happens to be the key to even enjoying the park, as aside from it, it lacks anything particularly exciting to the well traveled enthusiast.
For a Saturday on closing weekend after Labor Day, we have no frame of reference when it comes to crowds. We've never been, we don't remember if it is traditionally open that late, we just don't know. The parking lot looked about half full when we drove up, and we had no serious difficulty finding a parking space near the front of the allowed lot. There we could see one of the primary capital improvements for the 2012 season: a further upcharge preferred parking area where we had managed to park near the gate the season prior. The other major improvement? Fast Lane line cutting. Ah, yes, Michigan's Adventure, never disappoint me.
Once inside, there's no significant difference in the front gate area aside from signs indicating that Fast Lane is available for purchase. Given the kind of rides available at the park, Fast Lane is available on practically every dry ride all the way down to the Tilt A Whirl. This is, after all, a park rather strapped for dry rides. After the Huss Falling Star was removed in the 2011/2012 offseason, the capacity there didn't increase either.
Basically, Michigan's Adventure is ***ed. There's not really any kind way to say that, so there it is. Michigan's Adventure is ***ed. The management is held over from the park's old owners, the Jourden family. Now it is great that they built the park up and sold it to Cedar Fair and run it, but look, the park was no great shakes when they owned it either. I mean, they are responsible for the construction of most of the cinder block concrete structures on the park including the legendary Corkscrew station with its brutalist lines and zero attention to aesthetic beauty or...anything. And the square artificial lake that can't be any more than waist high and stinks. And the no trees. I guess they can blame a tornado for the trees, but that was also over a decade ago. Shouldn't some have grown back by now? Now they run the park with a guaranteed budget from Cedar Fair that is never enough to build anything new and is small enough that it will take them about 3 years to fully re-track and "fix" Shivering Timbers. Forget just that, how about a second train on Wolverine Wildcat? How about a Halloween event? Hasn't anyone noticed in Cedar Fair's board that Michigan is filled with Halloween attractions? Rising attendance, lake of attraction installations or infrastructure changes, management trapped in its old way, a parent company possibly terrified that capital expenditure there may bleed from its premier park; it all combines in some weird calculus equation that gives us the ...
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