Action Park book relives the good, the bad and the unbelievable

Vernon. No supervision, no rules: Locals recall the gushing blood, the drunken fistfights, the near-drownings, the road rashes, and the mega wedgies. They all agree: “It was tons of fun.”

Vernon /
14 Jul 2020 | 12:31

For some, the ‘80s Jersey attraction known as Action Park was a beloved rite of summer. For others it was, simply, dangerous.

Not only were the stories of what had occurred there countless, so were the injuries. Back in the day, the advertising slogan was “There’s nothing in the world like Action Park.” That was an understatement. It was also referred to as “Traction Park,” “Accident Park,” and “Class Action Park.”

“My family and friends have been telling each other stories over the years,” said Andy Mulvihill of Andover. Behind the scenes was Mulvihill’s father, Eugene, the park’s puppeteer known for his eccentricity and Dr. Suess-like architectural creations.

About two years ago, Mulvihill heard that a movie about the park, “Action Point,” was being directed by Tim Kirkby and starring Johnny Knoxville and Chris Pontius. He said to himself, “Andy, you know all that went on there. It’s time to put it in writing and get it out there. The real stories the real way it was. I had to tell the incredible journey my father took us all on needed to be shared.”

Mulvihill, 57, started as a lifeguard at Action Park. He’s now the vice president of the state board of education and CEO of real estate development at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, which his father built in the ’90s. Mulvihill partnered with Jake Rossen to write “Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park,” which was released on June 30.

“It was not an amusement park where they strap you in and spin you around and it’s the same every time,” Mulvihill said. “At Action Park, you were in charge of your own destiny. I’d call it a ‘participation park.’”

Melissa Towey of Sparta said it was “both a rite of summer and dangerous. Though, I don’t think I remember it being dangerous or being scared. At that age the news went in one ear and out the other.”

Tonya Fleszar, of Hampton has many fond memories of going to Action Park as a teenager. “My friends and I still talk about how crazy it was,” she said. “There was nothing like going off the Tarzan swing in a pool of freezing water. My personal story is of doing a back tuck off the cliff jump while my friends watched, as the lifeguard jumped into get me. The wave pool and the cannonball were favorites, and the Colorado River was even crazier -- all kind of dangerous but made for great stories and memories.”

‘We would show each other our injuries’

Lori Schutte of Stillwater took it all in stride. “It was what it was,” she recalls. “You knew the risk before you went on the rides. We didn’t complain. We would just show each other our injuries when we were done. In particular the Alpine slide -- going down the mountain on a cart with what I think was a cement track with no helmets, a small lever for a break (and you learned fast if your cart had good breaks), and getting hit from behind from the cart behind you. The first time on, it you learned how to stop, but if you were going too fast around the corners, you flew off the track. There was lots of road rash for sure! But tons of fun.”

Christine Bello had a rude shock when she hit the water after jumping off the small cliff. “I had the wind knocked out of me,” she said. “I thought I was going to drown. I also once went down the speed slide and ended up in the pool with a mega wedgie and an exposed upper body as my tankini top got pushed up on impact.”

She also got into a bit of trouble going down one of the water slides in a tube. She “got stuck in a small flat area of swirling water as others came down and were knocking into me,” she said. “I finally got pushed along. There’s some fun memories.”

Steve Russell of Newton worked at what he calls “Accident Park” for four summers.

“I saw a lot of people get injured, ranging from broken limbs to blood-gushing cuts, drunken fist fights (guys and gals), people stained with iodine from the Alpine Slide road rash and a few arrests,” he recalls. “It was fun.”

‘Crazy but fun’

Stacey Warnett Cerbo of Hampton knew a girl who broke her wrist on the Alpine Slide. One of her friends almost drowned in the pool.

“The first time I went I was 13,” recalls Kristine Hatch of Hampton. “My sister’s boyfriend at the time broke his nose on the Alpine Slide within an hour. There was no supervision, and it felt like no rules. I remember the Cannonball dropping us into a cold pool, and the lifeguards were not even watching. I knew that because my top fell off and no one noticed.”

Margaret Lupo Witt of Newton worked at Action Park one summer. “I saw so many injuries, and drunk/rude people.”

Kathleen Toto Costa, of Madison, said, “I loved the Alpine Slide as a kid. It was crazy but so much fun.”

Dina Congregane of Roxbury said her brother still has a road rash scar from the Alpine Slide that he shows off.

Ann Paterno lived in Sussex County for most of her life and recently moved to Arizona. “I crashed the Alpine Slide,” she said. “I rode it ‘wide open’ assuming that -- as it was an amusement park -- there was no way it would come off the track. I hit a turn and next thing I knew, I was laying on a bale of hay wondering what happened. Luckily only my ego was bruised. I think that was because I was super relaxed. They also had hosted an Octoberfest that weekend and we all had a ‘few’ big German beers before hitting the rides. Genius, drunk driving on the Alpine Slide.”

Albert Siuta of Titusville went to Action Park two years in a row, and once ran into Jason Alexander, who played George on “Seinfeld.”

Niki Morville Brand of Fredon wasn’t allowed to go to Action Park. “My dad was an insurance agent and wouldn’t let me go,” she said. “I think I’m the only Sussex County resident who never went.”

When fun turns fatal

Some of the accidents led to fatalities.

“I knew of five deaths at Action Park,” said Andy Mulvihill. “It’s a horrible part of the history, but unfortunately when you get people who aren’t very good swimmers around water, it can happen. It doesn’t excuse what happened there, but it can when you have a lot of people.”

Action Park opened in 1978 and closed in 1996 (it reopened under different owners a few years later only to close and reopen again. Action Park was replaced by the much tamer Mountain Creek Waterpark, which is open for the 2020 season with COVID-19 precautions in place.

“I think the release time for the book is timed so it will be something that takes people’s minds off of the COVID and the news for a bit and lets them go back to the ‘80s,” Mulvihill said.

The book was published by Penguin Books/Random House and can be found on Amazon.com.

“I saw a lot of people get injured, ranging from broken limbs to blood-gushing cuts, drunken fist fights (guys and gals), people stained with iodine from the Alpine Slide road rash and a few arrests. It was fun.” --Steve Russell of Newton