published Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Construction-themed park lets kids move some earth

Eight-year-old Aiden Girlya, accompanied by his parents Ilya and Trisha Girlya drives a backhoe Thursday during a preview day at Diggerland USA in West Berlin, N.J. The them park scheduled to opening in June is said to be the first theme park of its kind in the U.S., though many of its plans are based on similar parks in the United Kingdom.
Eight-year-old Aiden Girlya, accompanied by his parents Ilya and Trisha Girlya drives a backhoe Thursday during a preview day at Diggerland USA in West Berlin, N.J. The them park scheduled to opening in June is said to be the first theme park of its kind in the U.S., though many of its plans are based on similar parks in the United Kingdom.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WEST BERLIN, N.J. — A theme park opening next month in New Jersey will let kids, and adults, move some earth with excavating equipment.

The owners of Diggerland USA outside Philadelphia say it's the first theme park of its kind in the U.S., though many of its plans are based on four similar parks in the United Kingdom. Unlike a more intense heavy equipment playground in Las Vegas called Dig This, Diggerland caters to both kids and adults.

Visitors who are at least 4 feet tall can take a turn driving a backhoe around a course with the help of a staff member or they can dig in sand piles with a 7-ton excavator.

Besides letting customers dig, the park also has the Spin Dizzy, a ride where passengers can spin at high speed strapped into the bucket of a specially designed earth-mover or go around more slowly in a digger-themed carousel.

The machines are the real thing, not miniatures or replicas. But they are modified to limit their functionality — and danger.

The machines used for digging are not able to be driven. Those that can be driven have safeguards so they won't go too fast. And park employees can remotely shut down the machines.

The New Jersey park is owned by Ilya Girlya and his family, who also run a nearby water park. The new theme park is set to open June 14, and full-day tickets are $35. It does not cost extra to go on any individual rides.

At a preview event Thursday, the Spin Dizzy zipped in quick circles; its starts and stops were as jerky as earth-moving equipment is.

Unlike most spinning amusement rides, the operator also spins in circles. Park marketing director Chris Peters said that adds a requirement for the job: The workers who do it can't get woozy from spinning in circles.

Lisa Rupertus, from Pine Hill, took her 3-year-old son Jace on the Dig-Around, for a spin on the carousel. Jace, whose T-shirt said "I make dirt look good," is perhaps at the target age for excavation infatuation.

"He's very excited," Lisa Rupertus said, pointing to her other sons. "So is my 13-year-old and my 11-year-old."

Other attractions include standard carnival games reimagined, including a duck pond and a bowling game using a small excavator.

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