What: Lake Winnepesaukah Opening Weekend
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.-p.m. Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays (Hours remain constant on this schedule until Memorial Day weekend.
Where: Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park, 1730 Lakeview Drive, Rossville, GA.
Admission: $27 unlimited rides ages 3-54, $12 ages 1-2 and 55+ through May 27. Ticket packages, $18 for value strip of 14 ride tickets and $1 for additional tickets; rides range from 2-5 tickets each.
Note: Admission increases during the SoakYa season, May 28-Sept. 5, to an all-inclusive price of $33.95 for ages 3-54 and $16.95 for ages 1-2 and 55+. Admission grants access to both parks; there is no either/or option.
Good news — Lake Winnepesaukah has thrown open its gates for the summer once more. Better news — you don't have to be able to spell the name to get in.
On Thursday, the Rossville, Ga., amusement park entered its 91st season inviting thousands of visitors from across the region to get hurled, spun and splashed on the park's several dozen rides. School groups, families and couples streamed through the gates en masse, filling the park's 80 acres with screams and laughter.
"We're having a good time," park spokeswoman Talley Green said with a grin as another bus unloaded an excited horde at the front gate behind her.
Green has been working at the park for 18 years, and during that time, she said, she's seen a lot of people having a lot of fun and making a lot of memories.
"We watch the various generations come through. Mom and dad bring their kids, grandparents bring their grandkids. Some are carrying on the tradition of their first amusement park ride at Lake Winnie," she said.
For most of the returning visitors, there are plenty of familiar attractions like the Cannonball, a 49-year-old wooden roller coaster that reaches 50 mph on a 70-foot vertical drop before flying through a series of hills.
One of the largest rides in the park, the coaster has thrilled riders for decades, and it's still making new fans. When asked about his favorite ride, 10-year-old Hunter Poff didn't have to think for more than a few moments before blurting out, "I've gotta go with the Cannonball."
Green said that's part of the fun with working in an amusement park.
"We're a place for people to make family landmarks, like finally being tall enough for the Cannonball and first Ferris wheel rides," she said.
The amusement park is also getting some fresh blood with the addition of the Twister, a new attraction that sends its riders tumbling head over heels through the air while strapped into a row of seats that flip, turn and gyrate. The ride is replacing the Genie, a spinning gargantuan that has been sent away for summer repairs.
An attachment to Lake Winnie that was added three years ago, SoakYA Water Park, will remain closed until May 28.
Since it was first opened to a crowd of 5,000 people in 1925, Lake Winnie has attracted tens of thousands of visitors from all over the Southeast, and Thursday was no different. At 3 p.m., a school group from Allons Elementary School in Overton County, Tenn., flooded through the front gates, and the chaperoning teachers stood back to watch them disperse into the park.
Rhonda Wright, an eighth grade teacher, said with some exasperation, "The main thing is making sure they stay in groups."
Most of those students made beelines for the biggest rides, but in addition to the thrillers, Lake Winnie also has a variety of family and kiddie rides for children who are barely toddlers. One worker, Keisha Laster, said she's manned kiddie rides for two seasons now and loves interacting with the youngest guests.
"I'm good with kids, so I thought 'Why not work with them?'" she said. "They're full of excitement."
That was certainly true of a trio of 8-year-olds being corralled back to the car by their mothers after a day in the park.
Avi Blades said, "My favorite was the one where you twirl around."
When asked what ride she thought was most fun, Avi's friend Aria Owens quickly said, "the OH-Zone," an enormous tower that drops its riders 14 stories.
Aria is braver than most, but for those guests who don't think flying through the air at 50 mph is the best way to spend an afternoon, there's always funnel cake to tide you over while you watch the kids go nuts.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.