A Retrospective on Opryland – Nashville Needs a New Theme Park
How long has it been since you’ve ridden a rollercoaster in the Music City? Well, I’m talking about an actual one….not one from the county fair that could fall apart at any moment. But, I’m talking about the real deal. Those machines that would take your damn breath away. The rollercoasters that were so wild and fast, they left jarring impressions in your mind that remain to this day. There’s no Nashville theme park for us to get that (all due respect to Nashville Shores) anymore, but I think it’s high time we start making the push for it to return.
So, sit down around the fire, folks. It’s “Story Time with Big Natural.” See, back in my day, we young Nashvillians went to a place called Opryland. It was, quite simply, magical. The peak of Summer, every year, was that annual trip to Opryland. It was legendary. We went back to school in September and shared stories of this place almost as if it were sacred. Some sort of mythical Valhalla for Southern children.
For good reason, you’ve all been kids at some point. Surely, hopefully, you have memories of such things. The overall experience of Opryland went beyond the rides. Specifically, I’m talking about getting a slice of pizza and a frozen Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew. But, I’m sure you all have your own Opryland routine featuring things I’ve yet to mention. Nonetheless, make no mistake, though the experience was memorable, the rides were still king.
Some of my favorites included the Screamin’ Delta Demon, sneakily the best ride in the park, in my opinion, for a couple of reasons. One, it was a fun, fast ride, with a little bit of water if I recall correctly. Secondly, the lines were rarely long. You get in and ride that thing as long as you wanted (that’s what she said). For further context, I’m 33 years old. My heyday with Opryland came when The Hangman was shiny and new and everyone wanted to ride it. Crowds flocked to it, leaving some of the older rides open.
Next up, I’m going with the Wabash Cannonball and the Grizzly River Rampage in a tie. Like the Screamin’ Delta Demon, I rode the hell out of the Wabash Cannonball. The lines were rarely long, and I could ride it until my parents had to essentially pull me off the damn thing. I was terrified that a shark would pop out in the tunnel of the Grizzly River Rampage, but it was otherwise loads of fun and a way to get soaking wet and cool off in the Summer.
But, as any credible, esteemed journalist would do, I took to the open streets of Twitter to help me do my job. I asked for some of your favorite rides and Twitter, you did not disappoint:
Standing on the bridge after riding the Old Mill scream
— TheHoundztooth (@TheHoundztooth) September 20, 2017
^Better than the actual ride, in my opinion.
Chaos, The Hangman, & Grizzly River Rampage. Oh and Turkey legs.
— Jacob O'Brien (@JacobOB23) September 20, 2017
I can't believe I forgot to mention the turkey legs.
Chaos scared the crap out of me. I always just kept my eyes closed the whole time when my friends pressured me to go on that ride
— Loni Polk (@LoniPolk247) September 20, 2017
Yeah, a lot of people keep bringing up Chaos, but I'm with Loni. I closed my eyes every time I rode it as a kid.
Wabash cannonball was pretty cool
— Rick Merritt (@R1ckterScale) September 20, 2017
More love for the Wabash Cannonball.
also, the arcade in Do Wah Diddy City was better than any arcade in any mall in Nashville at the time
— Hibbs (@b_hibbs) September 20, 2017
Wow - totally forgot about Do Wah Diddy City, too. See? That's my point. The real Nashvillians remember the true legacy of how magical this place was. But, what does the next generation have?
Mom or dad would drop us off at the entrance in the morning & say "be back up here at 3:00" w/ enough money to get lunch. https://t.co/bgf6VtzaO5
— Jennifer Castleman (@JLCastleman) September 20, 2017
Where can our children get experiences like Jennifer's?
I can remember Christmases where family members would get season passes to Opryland. Those were like the golden tickets in Willy Wonka.
It's also worth mentioning Halloween here. When I sat down to write this piece, it was one of the first few things I thought about. I remember going a couple of times with my family, but it being a little too terrifying for a young child. So, we got out of there before dark. But, a lot of people have fond memories of Halloween at Opryland.
Halloween was easily the best time of the year at the park. Them draining GRR and turning it into a walk through haunted house was great
— Hibbs (@b_hibbs) September 20, 2017
They also drained it after the park closed down and it sat unguarded for the longest time. Opryland Hotel didn't run security on it, so all you had to do was jump the fence and you could roam the deserted ride. Had some good times doing that.
Look, the bottom line is....I'm 30. I consider myself apart of the last great generation of Opryland. I can distinctly remember the park closing and Opry Mills opening years later. But, I'm also at a different point in my life. Beer and hot chicken excite me, of which Nashville has plenty. That's my life force now - booze and good food. But, think about the kids. There simply aren't any attractions for families in Nashville these days.
It's a grand tourist destination city, but really, there's not much for you to do if you aren't a borderline alcoholic like me or don't have a deeply rooted love of country music. My niece visited a couple of Christmases ago, and if it hadn't been for all the activities surrounding the hotel, I'm not sure what we would've done.
That's why Nashville needs to bring back Opryland. Don't try something new for a fresh start. We're a city about our culture, and Opryland is a part of that culture. That park was a part of what made Nashville special, and it's a part of what made me the man I am today. That last bit might have been an exaggeration, but I'm trying to enact change here people, and that isn't accomplished by subtlety.
Sure, there have been rumors of parks opening all over town, but nothing has ever materialized. But, that's why we, the people of Nashville, need to be the change we wish to see up in this bitch. Let's bring back Opryland.
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley