The purchase and subsequent closure of Geauga Lake by Cedar Fair, LLP evoked concern within the enthusiast and preservationist communities from almost the moment it happened. At the forefront of this concern was the future of the venerated park’s classic Big Dipper roller coaster, which is the country’s seventh oldest roller coaster. American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) has made saving this coaster a high priority. Although the park was home to two other wooden coasters, it was Big Dipper that attracted preservationists’ attention due to its age and status as an ACE Coaster Classic. Almost immediately, members of ACE’s Executive Committee began a dialogue with government officials, business leaders, and Cedar Fair executives, hoping to come to an agreeable solution to save this highly regarded coaster. Possible solutions included dismantling the ride and reconstructing it at another Cedar Fair property, dismantling the ride and storing it for future erection, or keeping it onsite as part of a new, multi-use development. There is currently a submitted bid for the property from a Cleveland developer that would preserve the ride on site, yet no decision has been made by Cedar Fair or its real estate agent, Colliers International.
The coasters were advertised as being for sale in November 2007 although no real offers surfaced. With the publication of the auction flyer, the Big Dipper was initially not included. It was however added to the listing by Cedar Fair management in late April 2008.
The timing of the auction coincided with ACE’s national convention in Georgia, where all of the members of the Executive Committee were expected to be present. Two of the committee members did, however, attend the auction. ACE officers and others present were stunned when the auctioneer mentioned ACE before the bidding started, erroneously stating that ACE had declined a donation of the Big Dipper. ACE's past president verbally refuted the comment and drew much attention to what has since continued to be an ongoing controversy. The coaster sold for $5,000 to Apex Western Machinery Movers represented by Tom Woosnam, who told media in attendance that he was in the business of removing structures and machinery but made this purchase as an agent for an undisclosed party who wanted to preserve the structure as a non-working ride. He went on to also purchase the Raging Wolf Bobs for $2,500. Just four days after the auction, he contacted ACE and stated that his client would donate both the Big Dipper and the Raging Wolf Bobs to the organization, free of charge, with the provision that ACE could only use Apex for the removal. Subsequently, ACE officials grew wary of the offer when questions were not fully answered, deadlines were pushed, and inquiries about the possibility of certain parts being donated to ACE were met with disparaging comments from the winning bidder. In addition, Apex had no known experience dismantling coasters, and their estimate was two to three times higher than an evaluation provided by a company professionally experienced in moving wood roller coasters. Furthermore, ACE learned that the bidder had been involved in a situation following a 2006 auction that resulted in a court case entitled State of Ohio v Woosnam 2006-Ohio-6327.
ACE wants to save Big Dipper. But as a modest non-profit organization, despite being rich with enthusiasm, ACE’s resources are limited. Mark Cole, ACE's president, explains, “ACE has money in reserves that is earmarked for Preservation and Museum/Archival efforts. Even if these funds were enough to cover the cost of dismantling Big Dipper, there are the issues of transporting it, the massive amount of space it would take to store it, and the question of what ACE would ultimately do with it. The coaster has already been shopped to other park operators, and there haven't been any takers. This is a most unfortunate situation.” If the Big Dipper structure were to be razed, ACE is still very interested in obtaining the trains, blueprints, and other key parts for archival purposes and even possibly future use. Naturally ACE would prefer the ride to remain intact and on site, because of its historic significance to the community.
Founded in 1978, ACE is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation, promotion, appreciation, and safe enjoyment of roller coasters. With close to 7,000 members in 50 states and 12 countries, ACE is the largest amusement park enthusiast organization in the world. Members of ACE receive newsletters and magazines, as well as the opportunity to attend events.
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