By Daniel Kelley
VERNON N.J. (Reuters) - It's hard to forget a trip on the Alpine Slide, the half-mile fiberglass track that sent riders careening down the side of a mountain on a cart at a New Jersey resort once known as Action Park.
The rural resort drew thousands of revelers everyday from 1978 until 1996 in spite of - or maybe because of - its freewheeling reputation for danger.
“We'd race some unsuspecting guy on the Alpine Slide," said Dana Bornstein, 44, who worked at the park as a teenager in the 1980s. “We'd be at the bottom and see the cart come down by itself. Next thing you know, they'd be bringing the guy to first aid."
Bornstein was one of roughly 100 former employees who gathered for a reunion at the legendary water park on Saturday to celebrate its rechristening. Action Park closed in 1996 and reopened two years later as Mountain Creek. Owners decided to switch back to the original name in an attempt to capitalize on the nostalgia - some might say notoriety - of its earlier heyday.
One of the first waterparks in the country, Action Park opened in 1978, sometimes introducing new attractions almost as soon they were invented.
“Pretty much any backyard inventor with a crazy idea knew this was the place to try it out,” said Bill Benneyan, president of Mountain Creek Resort, which owns Action Park.
Matt Weismantel, who worked at the park from 1979 to 1984 recounted watching operators turn on the wave pool, at the time one of the first in the country, for the first time. He heard a scream and saw a woman clinging to the side of the wall, her feet above the water.
“She didn't realize that when the wave went through, there'd be nothing underneath her,” Weismantel said.
The park earned a reputation for danger and six people died there from 1980 to 1987.
News accounts from the New Jersey Herald in the 1980s reported hundreds of lawsuits in little more than a few years. The Alpine Slide was the site of 26 head injuries and 14 fractures in a two-year period.
Executives at the newly renamed Action Park hope they can resurrect that reputation for risk without the actual danger. The Alpine Slide and a seldom-used waterslide known as the Cannonball Loop have been removed.
In a tour of the park on Saturday, Benneyan stressed that the state inspects rides at the beginning and end of the season, plus conducts periodic checks during the season.
Some of the former employees expressed a sense of nostalgia for a time when kids and teenagers roamed free and a little bit of danger was associated with growing up.
“When you are the first to do something, you do it without regulation,” said Amy Rude, 39, who worked at the park from 1990 to 1995. “Action Park is from a moment in time that can never happen again.”
Former park employee Mike Donahan, 40, remembers seeing wipeouts on the Alpine Slide that left kids with scrapes severe enough to require a trip to the first-aid office but not immobilizing enough to keep them from soon returning to the same ride.
“They'd be bleeding and jump right into the pools," he said. “I don't even know how much chlorine they put in the pool."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)