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Arnolds Park Revamps Legendary Coaster
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The Legend roller coaster is just that – a legend in the lore of Arnolds Park in Arnolds Park, Iowa, located along Lake Okoboji.

The classic coaster has been completely refurbished. According to the park's marketing spokesman Paul Plumb, the revamp of the wooden roller coaster track helps to preserve the history of not just the coaster itself but “all our vintage rides.” He notes that many of the parks that operate these historic attractions are disappearing. Fortunately, that's not the case for Arnolds Park, which is operating as 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, and as such, can keep the rides safely operating.

Great Coasters International Inc. is handling the refurbishment of The Legend. The process began back in 2013, with completion scheduled for this season; this year the ride will be completely restructured with a new track, marking the end of the last phase of The Legend's four-part refurbishment.

The historic ride is one of only approximately 113 wooden roller coasters in the U.S., per the Roller Coaster Census Report. It is the 13th oldest roller coaster in the country. The coaster was originally constructed in 1930. A 200-man crew of workers built the venerable coaster, which helped to establish the park as a purveyor of amusement thrills.

Originally named The Speed Hound, the coaster rises to the summit known as “The Point of No Return,” where it pauses before making a plunge all the way down – some 63 feet – at a speed of 50 miles-per-hour. Along with the park's other original roller coaster, The Thriller, the ride became the pride of the park when it opened. It was designed by John A. Miller, a leading coaster designer of the era, who patented many of the ride's features including an anti-rollback device and under-friction wheels. The coaster is one of just ten of Miller's surviving designs, wrapping around the park in a figure eight design. Passengers ride in a three-car train up a six-story lift, traversing the track in slightly more than a minute – and a thrilling minute it is.

The ride has had a variety of names besides The Speed Hound over the past 90 years, including Giant Dips and Big Coaster. It is still a big coaster with over 2,000 feet of track, although not as enormous as some of today's new mega coasters.

Every element of the coaster has been reinforced and redone, while still retaining its classic, white-painted appearance. The Legend will now feature a new lift, and a new first curve, and a camelback. Great Coasters International also poured new concrete under the coaster's large turnaround, creating a foundation that's more stable, one that forms a solid path beneath the track rather than the piers that were used until now to support it. Overall, the revitalized coaster will offer a smoother ride with less bumps, without sacrificing any of the thrills or the lake view it's known for.

Great Coasters International worked along with Skyline Attractions, which provided design and engineering during the multi-part refurbishment. Skyline joined the project in 2017 assisting with analyzing and rebuilding sections of the coaster's foundation and overall structure. This year, the company also assisted with implementing the lift hill and first drop improvements for the ride, and updates to the mechanical system.

A new drive system is also in place for the ride, brakes are new, too, for a smoother and safer experience for riders. The trains themselves have also been upgraded, with their reconfiguration handled by the park itself. Only the historic station is the same.

Plumb describes the ride as the “the ‘face' of the park.” He still gets a kick out of watching first time riders experience it, especially kids who have waited to ride the attractions until they were tall enough to be allowed on board. Riders must be at least 48” tall to enjoy the thrilling coaster.

Like the ride itself, the park is rich in history. It's first ride was constructed by landowner Wesley Arnold: a wooden, 60-foot toboggan-style waterslide on the south shore of the lake.

Today, Arnolds Park boasts an assortment of vintage and preserved rides that provide an experience that is as thrilling as it is nostalgic. There are over 20 rides to choose from at the park, including the Jumping Star and the Wild Mouse. A Tilt-a-Whirl, Swinger, the Bug House, and Mirror Maze are also crowd-pleasing classics. Kiddie rides like the Dizzy Dragon and the Kiddie Boats remain traditional favorites, but still popular rides for the smaller visitors.

Local and regional fans of the park are huge supporters of the amusement fun it offers. In 1999, when the park was sold to a developer who planned to build condominiums at the site, a Save the Park campaign arose, helping not only to save the park, but leading to its current operation as a successful nonprofit. A new nonprofit, the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, was established to run it. New structures were constructed in the heart of the park to hold the museum itself, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, and the Iowa Welcome Center. Now, the venerable park is celebrating 133 years in the community.

Along with the coaster revamping, also new for the park this year is the completion of a dormitory project for international and seasonal workers, which began at the end of last year. It will conveniently house up to 115 workers right across the street from the park.  

Day passes for the park, start at $37.95. Multiple day passes and upgraded passes that include food and games are also available. The park is open May 20 through September 4th.

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