Lake Winnepesaukah

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Unique amusement park offers small-town hospitality and plenty to do, whether you’re 1 or 81

by OLIVIA GRIDER

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN COMING TO LAKE WINNEPESAUKAH for fun and recreation since… well, longer than anyone really knows. Native Americans fashioned the first lake by building an earthen dam around several springs. In 1924, Carl O. Dixon, a race-car driver and sportsman, and his wife, Minette, purchased the property just outside Chattanooga, Tenn., and opened a family swimming and picnicking park the following year.

Today, Lake Winnepesaukah – the name the Dixons gave the lake after a Native American word meaning “bountiful waters” or “beautiful lake of the highlands” – is home to a unique amusement park that blends classic rides and attractions with thrilling additions, all in a charming, tree-shaded atmosphere.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]..

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[s2If is_user_logged_in()]“Some other parks are more teen focused, but we get multi-generation visitors,” says Talley Green, director of public relations for the park and the Dixons’ great-granddaughter. “People come as small children and then bring their children and grandchildren. We have a mix of kiddie rides, family rides and thrill rides. We’re all about the whole family having a good time.”

Travel and Leisure magazine named Lake Winnepesaukah, or “Lake Winnie” as frequent visitors affectionately call it, one of America’s top 10 family amusement parks.

Strolling down the mid-way or among the 35 rides that line the lake, one can’t help but feel a sense of time turned back. The carrousel, built in 1916 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, features 68 hand-carved and painted steeds and is one of the oldest and largest in the country.

The park’s original ride, the Boat Chute, designed by Carl Dixon and built on site, is still going strong after 86 years. The inspiration for modern log flume rides, the Boat Chute is the oldest mill chute water ride in the country, according to the National Amusement Park Historical Association, and continues to be one of the park’s most popular attractions. Riders board colorful, custom-built boats that travel through a dark tunnel and then plunge into the lake, free from their wood and metal track for several yards.

Even the prices at Lake Winnie are a throwback. Parking is free, and unlimited ride passes are $26 per person ($10 for adults 65 and older and children ages 1 and 2). Ride ticket packages also are available. Food and drink prices will make you wonder if you have stepped back in time. (When’s the last time you paid $2 for a giant fountain drink at an amusement park?) “Our goal is to provide wholesome family fun at affordable prices for all ages,” Green says.

Children as young as 1 find plenty to do at Lake Winnepesaukah. Eleven rides, including kiddie boats, swings, airplanes and sports cars are devoted to young children. Thrill seekers head for the Cannon Ball Roller Coaster with its ¾-mile of wooden track, the OHZone, which offers riders a scenic view of Lookout Mountain against the horizon before sending them on a 14-story free fall at 4.6Gs, and the Fire Ball, a new ride in 2012 that loops around a circular track, suspending riders upside-down.

But it’s the in-between rides that set Lake Winnie apart. Rides like the Scrambler, Ferris wheel, Tilt-a- Whirl, swings, Pirate ship and Paratrooper that appeal to a wide variety of people are disappearing from larger parks, but are a staple at Lake Winnie. Families also can enjoy playing miniature golf together.

The lake that Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and Gen. Braxton Bragg looked out on from their campsite on the night of the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863 is still the focal point of the park. Visitors paddle-boat around the lake and soar over it on the Wave Swinger and Alpine Way chairlift.

People swam in the lake until 1927, when an Olympic- size swimming pool, also spring fed, was built adjacent to it, and the lake was reserved for boating and fishing. Swim meets were held at the pool, which featured a sandy beach and nearby dressing houses. The pool was closed in the mid-1960s (the spring-fed water was extremely cold), and the area now contains the carrousel and Wacky Factory.

The transition from outdoor-recreation area to amusement park was gradual, Green says. “It’s just slowly evolved with rides and games, and, over time, became the amusement park we know and love today,” she says.

She should know. Green grew up in a house inside the park and has worked there since 1998. “We had instant entertainment when friends spent the night when the park was open, and it was a great ‘playground’ when the park was closed,” she says. “Since coming back, I have a new appreciation for the amount of work that really goes into the operation of an amusement park and a greatly enhanced respect for the work done by the first, second and third generations of family members who started the park and kept it growing and evolving throughout the years.”

Lake Winnie’s evolution will continue this summer, with the opening of a 5-acre water park that will include a lazy river, wave lagoon, water slides and a splash park for toddlers. Most Lake Winnie visitors hail from the four-state area surrounding the park – Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina – but tourists from across the nation have discovered it. One family from Ohio travels to Lake Winnie every year for the park’s Fourth of July fireworks. “It’s their annual pilgrimage,” Green says.

The park also is a popular venue for family reunions, church-group outings and company picnics. “We pride ourselves that our staff is very courteous and friendly,” Green says. “It [the park] has that smalltown feeling. You’re welcome to sit on a park bench or in a picnic grove and tell your group to meet you back at a certain time.”

If you go:

GETTING THERE: Lake Winnepesaukah is located just outside Chattanooga. Address: 1730 Lakeview Dr., Rossville, GA 30741 Phone: 1-877-LAKEWIN }

PLAN AHEAD: Discounts often are offered through the park’s website (lakewinnie.com) and Facebook (facebook.com/lakewinnie). Concerts and special events take place throughout the summer and are posted on the website. Past headliners have included Charlie Daniels and Tracy Lawrence, and the Independence Day fireworks displays are a favorite.

LOOK AROUND: Check out other attractions in and around Chattanooga, including Lookout Mountain’s Incline Railway, one of the steepest passenger railways in the world and known as “America’s Most Amazing Mile.” We’ll feature it in our next issue.

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