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Summer fun with family right here in Ohio

This is the time of year when people tend to long for travel and adventure.

Unfortunately, many vacation activities and destinations are considered risky right now, given the threat of COVID-19. So, instead of going on a trip, I decided to write about some of my past adventures not too far from home.

Growing up about three hours away from most of my extended family, I didn’t really have much opportunity for childhood vacation trips. Instead of exotic destinations, we almost always went to see relatives when we traveled.

Fortunately because we lived in Ohio, there were plenty of fun destinations that I got to visit occasionally with my cousins. In particular, my cousin Heidi Compston was just nine months younger than me, and our families visited Cedar Point and Kings Island together several times.

Being about the same age and size (we even looked a lot alike), Heidi and I made great partners at amusement parks. Both of us were thrilled at the sights and sounds of the parks, and we happily ran together, hand-in-hand, from one ride to the next.

I have fond memories of sticky hands and faces, covered with bits of cotton candy. The carnival-type atmosphere was exciting, with its calliope music and strange new attractions at every turn.

Heidi was not quite as bold as I was, so she didn’t mind that our mothers didn’t want us to ride the roller coasters. I, however, could not be satisfied at the thought of simply watching those speeding trains without hitching a ride.

At Cedar Point, I was fascinated with the bright blue Corkscrew. I had never seen anything so exhilarating as those metal tubes twisting through the park, carrying carloads of screaming teens. But alas, I was not big enough to ride it on my own, and none of the adults in our group was brave enough to try it.

Cedar Point, known as “A Place Like No Other,” is located in Sandusky, Ohio. Founded in 1870, the park is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, under the unusual conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today it is home to 71 rides, including the award-winning Steel Vengeance hyper-hybrid roller coaster. It also features beach activities along Lake Erie, live shows, three kids’ areas, popular eateries and overnight accommodations.

After celebrating its centennial in 1970, Cedar Point added many new attractions before I ever managed to visit. Kiddieland opened at its present site with 14 rides and a Lost Children’s area. The Frontier Town Carrousel, Jumbo Jet, Giant Wheel and Matterhorn opened in the following decade, along with the red, white and blue Corkscrew roller coaster in 1976, the Witches’ Wheel in 1977 and the Gemini racing roller coaster in 1978 — the tallest and fastest amusement ride in the world at the time.

Meanwhile at Kings Island near Cincinnati, I begged to ride The Beast. Heidi’s older brother, J.D,. agreed to take me on it, but my mother would not have it. That’s when my dad stepped in. He decided that he and his brother, Jerry, would take Heidi and me for our first roller coaster ride. He chose the Racer, so that he wouldn’t upset my mother too much. It was a more mild coaster with only hills and turns, no loops that would have us flying upside down.

Dad took me on one train — I don’t recall which color — and Uncle Jerry took Heidi on the other. All around the track, we watched anxiously to see which train would finish the race first. Jerry looked really uncomfortable every time I caught a glimpse of him, not just because it was Heidi’s first thrill ride, but also because he was a very tall, large man and didn’t fit very well on amusement rides.

I don’t remember which train was victorious, but I know we were all breathless, smiling and ready to go again as soon as the ride came to an end.

Kings Island opened its gates in 1972. The twin-track Racer was a star attraction then, but it had been outdone by the time we came along. The Eiffel Tower was a fixture at the park from day one. In 1977, the Screamin’ Demon debuted as the first forward and then backward-looping roller coaster in the United States. But in 1979, Kings Island unleashed The Beast — the longest, fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. It remains today as the longest wooden roller coaster in the world at 7,400 feet.

Kings Island now offers more than 100 rides, including 15 roller coasters, the Planet Snoopy kids’ area and adjacent Soak City Water Park with its 36 water slides.

Of course, there were and still are dozens of other attractions in and around Ohio. Some of them, such as hiking trails and state parks, provide plenty of room for social distancing and a safe and healthy good time.

Among the destinations and activities of the good old days were Geauga Lake and Sea World, the Ohio State Fair (canceled for this year due to the pandemic), and good old-fashioned road trips.

To read more about such summertime adventures, watch for the next edition of our Nostalgia magazine. It is scheduled to publish on Thursday as a supplement to The Times Leader. It is filled with the fond memories of some of our staff, who recall hitting the road with their families.

In the meantime, if you just can’t wait to get out and about, choose your destination and your company carefully so you can stay safe and well!

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