The newest formula for fun includes 200 roller coaster enthusiasts, a sunny Myrtle Beach day and a 50-year-old seaside coaster.
About 200 members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) descended on Family Kingdom Friday afternoon to commemorate the Swamp Fox Coaster’s 50th anniversary. The group of roller coaster fans kicked off their national spring season with early member-only access to the old wooden coaster and unveiling of a plaque commemorating the ride’s anniversary.
Roller coasters are just so fun. I’ve always loved them.
Milo Pennock, ACE member from N.Y.
Unlike the new steel coasters that boast loops and upside-down twists, the Swamp Fox has something that only comes with wooden coasters: nostalgia.
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“They’re just timeless,” said Tim Baldwin, ACE communications director. “The sounds of them, the smell of them, everything.”
ACE members from all over the country – and even some from Canada – were able to ride the coaster an hour before the park opened to the public, and some marked the occasion with several trips on the 2-minute ride. Billy Tyson, of Virginia, said the 50-year-old coaster is unlike many others around the country.
“This one is alive,” he said. “You’ve got to know how to ride it, or else you’re not going to enjoy it.”
ACE topped off the afternoon by unveiling an engraved metal plaque commemorating the coaster built by legendary designer John Allen. Allen was one of the key coaster designers in the mid-20th century and is responsible for multiple popular rides across the nation, Baldwin said.
The Swamp Fox opened June 17, 1966.
Unlike some other coasters, the Swamp Fox has survived all kinds of stormy weather. Hurricane Hugo – which hit the Strand in September 1989 – took the seaside coaster and amusement park out of commission for two years. The park sat empty until the Ammons family purchased the then-Grand Strand Amusement Park and turned it into what locals now know as Family Kingdom.
The Swamp Fox opened on June 17, 1966 and still stands today.
“This ride has endured multiple hurricanes. How many coasters can say that?” Baldwin said.
The coaster features a figure-eight layout with a 62-foot, 50 mph drop and multiple “airtime” moments along 2,640 feet of undulating track.
The coaster was spruced up with a fresh coat of paint earlier this year to the delight of Mark Cole, former ACE president from Jacksonville, Fla. He said that even through storms, closings and strong winds, the attention to the aging coaster shows how much the Grand Strand cares for its longest-lasting ride.
“It’s such a great coaster,” Cole said.
There’s a common bond here – there’s just an energy that you find at these events that you can’t find elsewhere.
Tim Baldwin, ACE communications director
ACE chose to mark their first spring meeting at Family Kingdom because any 50th anniversary is a milestone, Baldwin said. The group boasts more than 5,000 members worldwide and schedules national and international events yearly. ACE was founded in 1978 and focuses on the promotion, preservation and appreciation of roller coasters around the world.
For most members, it’s not just about roller coasters; it’s about people.
“There’s camaraderie here unlike anywhere else,” said Ruth Archibald, of Canada. “It’s like a family.”
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN