Over the past three years, six log flume rides have closed at major parks. Once a staple ride of the industry is now becoming somewhat of a rare breed. Why are parks deciding to close them? What attractions are replacing them? These are questions that this post will address.
Invented by Karl Bacon of Arrow Dynamics in the early 1960s, the log flume was the first ride of its type seen since "Shoot the Chute" rides constructed in the 1900s. Instead of focusing on a single drop into a lagoon, the log flume was versatile. It could meander through a customized course, climb through multiple drops, and return right back to the station at the end of the ride. The first installation is known as "El Aserradero", which opened at Six Flags over Texas in 1963.
This form of attraction became a fan favorite. They allowed for a wide audience to ride, featured large drops, and was a refresher on a hot day. Over the course of their history, Arrow built more than 50 log flumes.
So why are they going away?
The largest reason, as with anything in the business world, is money. In their hey day, a log flume was one of the largest additions that a park could invest in. That came with the caveat that they were also some of the costliest to maintain and operate.
As machines age and deteriorate, they either need a costly rehab, replacement, or downright removal. Log flumes take quite the beating over their lifespan. Water is heavy to move, and these flumes are responsible for moving thousands of gallons of water per minute. As pumps get older, they are in need of more maintenance and become less efficient. The decision of replacement or elevated running costs comes into play. Lift motors, station brakes, and filtration pumps all suffer from the same issues that come with age.
The structures of the ride also have to carry a large load. Since the logs are not fixed down to a track, they can freely float and bump along the surface of the trough to navigate the course. Loaded boats combined with velocity of the water erode the materials of the ride, meaning that once they become weak enough, segments of the ride will either need resurfacing or total replacement. This is important because the vast majority of Arrow's flumes were constructed of fiberglass. Along with the trough, many of the support structures were built of wood, which can warp and rot when combined with years of moisture.
Finally, there are actual operational costs. Remember that water is heavy? Imagine the electricity costs involved with pumping thousands of gallons of it per minute up and own drops, running multiple lifts that carry heavy boats, and all of the other brakes, controls, and motors. It's not a cheap bill. The water also needs to be tested and filtered daily, to ensure that it is clean enough to come in contact with people. Now you need people to run the ride. Log Flumes often need larger crews than most rides to attend all station positions, run the main panel, and attend the lifts in the event that an emergency stop is necessary.
For a ride that isn't marketable anymore, and isn't bringing any new people to the park, it is understandable why some parks decide to close their older flumes for expansion space. Although there's costs required with refurbishments and upkeep, park's can't really go out and announce "New for 2018: We replaced the log flume's pump! Come ride this thrilling new experience."
Some parks actually have decided to put down the money to refurbish their flume rides. Names that come to mind are Six Flags over Texas, Six Flags over Georgia, and Kings Dominion. Notice a trend there? They are all larger market parks, and their flumes not only have a historical value, but remain some of the top attractions in the park when it comes to capacity. In a case like this, the park has justification to use their budget on the existing ride, rather than remove it.
We've already been over the nostalgia and tradition that log flumes carry. For over 50 years, they have become popular, family favorite attractions that nearly everyone can enjoy. However, when parks make that tough decision to demolish them, many park fans and visitors have made their thoughts known.
Just breezing through a few of the top comments on different park's Facebook pages will give you a bit of an idea of how people feel. The main argument is that parks are removing these rides "just to build a new thrill ride" and that "they don't care about the families anymore". This is far from true. Parks don't decide to remove log flumes just for expansion. It usually comes from a combination of running costs, safety issues, and age.
La Pitoune at La Ronde was forced to shut down without notice due to structural problems. Darien Lake's Thunder Rapids sat closed for half of its final season in need of pump replacements. Even Kennywood's Log Jammer almost didn't open on its final scheduled day due to a maintenance issue. With age comes reliability problems, and parks are merely just trying to replace these older rides with something that will be open more often, and leave less people disappointed.
What's replacing log flumes?
We mentioned that six major parks have closed their log flumes in the past three years. Here is what is replacing them, or has already replaced them.
So four of these parks have already confirmed that roller coasters are replacing the flumes, one is rumored to be, and La Ronde is adding three new rides for families. So the people on Facebook have a legitimate gripe. Many of these parks are redeveloping the land for a thrill ride.
Why shouldn't they? Most amusement parks around the world are limited on land. Once they begin to run out of this resource, they are known as "landlocked" parks. With log flumes taking up multiple acres of space, it is a perfect piece of land to build a larger scale ride on upon their removal.
Thrill rides and roller coasters are also some of the most marketable rides. Not only will they keep local clientele coming back, but they also will bring in people from other places. With more admissions, and a larger population to pull from, this gives parks more of the capital that they need to continue profiting and building up, including future attractions for the whole family. In most cases, it is the thrill rides and roller coasters that give the parks their levels of success.
Companies such as Intamin, Hopkins (now White Water West), and Mack still manufacture flume rides similar to Arrow's original concept. While I believe that a few international parks have added them recently, the only ride in the US that came close to a traditional log flume addition was Shoot the Rapids at Cedar Point. The ride was plagued with problems and completely scrapped after only 5 seasons of service.
Will log flumes ever make a large scale return to parks? It's hard to say. But it is clear that the big focus of the industry right now is to continue constructing the latest and greatest innovations in thrill rides and roller coasters. At the very least, hopefully this article clears up a little bit of confusion, and pays homage to the great attractions that now find their home in the graveyard.