As the weather warms and the trees bloom, summer break is steadily approaching. Soon, most students will be out of school, and some have already started to plan their summer vacations.

Amusement parks may come to mind. The sweet smells of carnival food fill the air, and the sound of families and friends laughing together is only interrupted by the flash of noise that is a roller coaster rushing by; it’s an odd symphony of gleeful screams coupled with the rumbling of the tracks.

Amusement parks will open their doors very soon, and thrill-seekers across America will fill these parks in the hopes of getting the rush of a roller coaster ride. Before you get on your next or even your first roller coaster ride, let’s learn how they came to be and, more importantly, if they’re even safe.

Roller coasters have been around for a shockingly long time- they first popped up way back in the 17th century, making them over 300 years old. The first roller coaster was far from the modern iteration we think of today. Rather than tracks, it utilized ice. They were really more like complex slides, but it sparked the idea.

The first roller coaster utilizing tracks was made by the French. These are much more similar to modern roller coasters, although they were likely far less safe. The concept of the roller coaster continued to evolve until it made its way into the United States. La Marcus Thompson is often called “The Father of the Roller Coaster.” He’s credited for building Coney’s Switchback Railway of the famous Coney Island in 1884. 

Thompson is certainly not the inventor of the roller coaster, but he can be credited with improving and growing the concept, so in some ways, he could be considered “the father.” As he improved, Thompson made many larger and faster rides, attracting patrons from all over. All of his rides relied on gravity as the driving force. Thompson can be thanked for safety inventions such as the lap belt, which is still used today.

Roller coasters continued to evolve, with new movements, patterns, and materials being used, tracks became faster and more elaborate. You can now travel up to 149 mph on the fastest coasters or even flip upside down and go backward.

One of the closest parks to UTC’s campus is Lake Winnepesaukah, they are excited to open their doors for their 98th season beginning on May 4th. Talley Green, who works in PR and Advertising at Lake Winnepesaukah, thinks that their park has something for everyone.

“We have rides designed for every age, from kiddie rides to family rides to thrill rides. We have something for everyone age one to 101.”

Lake Winnie’s newest thrill ride is a coaster named the Fire Ball, which takes thrill seekers in a vertical loop, flipping upside down and even going backward. Another thrill ride inside the park is called the Oh-Zone! and it allows riders to experience 4.6Gs during a 14-story free fall.

Lake Winnie is also home to a rather historic roller coaster. Cannonball was first built in 1967 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company for Lake Winnepesaukah. The wooden track spans 2,272 feet long with a drop of 70 feet. The coaster will get riders up to 50 mph. The Cannonball is meticulously maintained to ensure rider safety, with the track being walked and inspected every single day.  

While most modern coasters are constructed of steel, many patrons still enjoy the feeling of a classic wooden track. The Cannonball is certainly a piece of history and was the fastest and longest coaster in the tri-state area when it was first built. If you’d like to know more about Lake Winnie and the Cannonball, visit their website here.

“It’s like the difference between a classic car to the latest sports car,” Green described. “You just can’t beat the ride.”

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