Lake Winnepesaukah

Lake Winnepesaukah is an old-school amusement park outside Chattanooga, Tenn.

When I was a little girl, my parents took me to an amusement park in a rural area outside Chattanooga, Tenn. The park’s name was hard to pronounce and even harder to spell.

Lake Winnepesaukah.

Back in those days, I was drawn to a particular ride. It was a roller coaster shaped like a crawling creature of some sort, and it traversed up and down steep hills at breakneck speeds. I stood at the queue gate, holding onto the rail and willing myself to get in line. But courage was not my friend, and I never worked up the nerve to climb on board.

Many years passed, but that memory still haunted me, so I talked my husband, Tim, into taking a road trip to find the theme park and conquer my fear.

I located an address for the place and we plugged it into our navigational system. The GPS guided us toward residential streets.

Tim thought it had to be a mistake. “There’s no amusement park around here,” he said.

“Yes, there is,” I insisted.

“Look around you,” he said, pointing at all the houses.

“I just know it’s here somewhere,” I said, but I was starting to question it myself.

AND THEN we glided over a little hill and before our eyes appeared the entrance sign: “Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park — Come On, Get Happy!”

We purchased an unlimited ride pass and began wandering through the park. My eyes were peeled for the roller coaster of my youth and, lo and behold, there it was. As I stood gazing at it, the biggest emotion I felt was — embarrassment.

The Wacky Worm?

This was the ride that turned my nerves inside out? It looked like an overfed caterpillar, dipping up and down inclines that can best be described as bunny hops. I watched as the passengers squealed in delight (as most small children are apt to do).

“This is it,” I told Tim. “This is the one.”

He laughed and asked, “You going to ride it?”

“Yes, I am,” I told him. “Will you ride it with me?”

Not that I was afraid, except maybe of making a fool out of myself. In that case, two fools are better than one.

We couldn’t fit into the same car, so he took the first one and I rode behind him. The ride began and we inched our way along the rails. As we ascended the first hill, some 6 feet tall or thereabouts, Tim lifted his arms in the air. I was quick to slap them down. “Stop that!” I hissed. Mr. Funny Man.

I didn’t exactly walk away from the Wacky Worm that day feeling like I cheated death, but it was nice to mark another item off my bucket list.

Lake Winnepesaukah is a family-owned park that opened in 1925. It is home to the Cannon Ball, a wooden roller coaster that opened 50 years ago and still earns respect from national coaster enthusiasts.

And then there’s the Boat Chute, a water ride, that’s the oldest one still operating in the nation. It travels idly through a very, very, very, very long and dark tunnel. (My sister once told me it was everyone’s favorite date ride when she was a teenager in the 1950s.)

In addition to the vintage attractions, Lake Winnepesaukah has added plenty of modern thrill rides, the kind that challenge the laws of gravity and set speed records. And there’s a whole slew of kiddie rides.

While the place is less than half the size of Six Flags Over Georgia, it’s also half the price on just about everything. Concession stand meals cost the same as at an average fast-food joint, and parking is free.

If you’ve never been, you should go and take the kids and grandkids. If ever there was a place that deserved to be called “the best kept secret,” it’s Lake Winnepesaukah. It’s open on weekends for the next couple of months, and the rates take a decent drop after Labor Day.

Check it out at lakewinnie.com.

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at donnabarton@cableone.net.

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