One major chapter of my upcoming regional park history book deals with how these parks lost their original design intent along the way. Decades of ownership turnover, corporate management, current trends for IP overlays, and so on rendered most of these parks nearly unrecognizable from when they were first built. Carowinds opened in 1973 as a tribute to the North & South Carolina region. Most everything was historical based on various time periods and locations in these states, and so it was wonderfully personal to us. Then the movie overlays came, some pretty cool, along with some nice rides, but at a severe loss to the park’s heritage.
And then along came Cedar Fair, which for years didn’t change this aspect all that much, but at least continued to maintain the park. Recently, though, they’ve been on a tear “activating” zones of the park (in the parlance of Rob Decker, former head honcho for creative design). This is not merely a new ride and fresh coat of paint. Entire sections have been dug up and reimagined, with lots of attention paid to southern and local heritage. Kinetic energy abounds with various performers and small shows around the park. Major live shows, something I thought had gone the way of the dodo, are thriving better than ever.
And so this is part of the story of another chapter in the book—the redemption of story, theme, and placemaking for these regionals. Not all the parks have benefited, but Carowinds is certainly an example of how making a park regionally-relevant and personal, and not just a homogenous franchise, proves that it’s a richer experience. People will make the trip to enjoy something unique, something special, something that’s not just another McDonalds. Thanks Rob and Cedar Fair—well done.