“Arkansas. Summer. Hot weather. And the anticipation of that ride to Magic Springs. That was the perfect combination,” said Todd Yakoubian, a meteorologist at KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock, remembering his childhood trips to Magic Springs Theme and Water Park in Hot Springs.
“I grew up in Arkansas, and as a kid, I knew the excitement it brought when you drove to Hot Springs and you saw Magic Springs on the right side of the road. We used to go down there quite often with my grandmother, stay at The Arlington and spend at least a day at Magic Springs. And now that I have my own kids, taking them down there and seeing the exact same excitement on their faces is awesome.”
Excitement is in the air at Magic Springs, and even more so this month. On July 22, the home of Arkansas’ only amusement park celebrates 40 years of magic memories.
For four decades, people have traveled to the park from across the state, region and beyond to enjoy the park’s thrills. Throughout the innumerable changes and growth of Magic Springs during each of those 40 years, one thing has remained the same — the pride Magic Springs’ staff feels for their unique role in supporting Arkansas tourism.
“As the only theme and water park in Arkansas, we know we are an important part of the Arkansas tourism conversation,” said Mike Wampler, director of sales and marketing for Magic Springs and Crystal Falls, its onsite water park.
“And being in Hot Springs, America’s first resort, we understand we are one of the great reasons people from all over come here. We work hard to ensure that we represent Arkansas tourism and Hot Springs at its finest.”
He added, “Celebrating our 40th season, we now see two and three generations of visitors who keep coming back to Magic Springs to create new family memories. We love that.”
Jen Ragsdill of Little Rock also has experienced the park as a child and as a parent. She said her childhood trips to the park once filled her with dread.
“When I was a kid, I was terrified of roller coasters,” she said. “Whenever we went to Magic Springs, I would start to get anxiety around Benton, and by the time we got to the parking lot, I’d be in a full-blown panic that someone would want me to ride the Roaring Tornado [a former roller coaster at the park]. Eventually, someone did talk me into getting on it. I rode it 17 times that day! My mother loves to tell people that was the day I discovered I was a thrill junkie — it just took me a little while.”
Ragsdill said that after hearing that family story for years, her kids, Ethan and Emerson, were initially disappointed that their mom’s famous Roaring Tornado had been replaced. They have since discovered a new generation of rides at the park and have become thrill-seekers themselves.
Drawing visitors, both new and those who return year after year, is critical for the success of any theme park. Wampler said Magic Springs is committed to continuing improvements around the park, including some very special additions for this anniversary season.
“The Brain Drain!” Wampler said when asked about what park guests will find new this season.
The Brain Drain is a ride that slowly takes courageous visitors up 13 stories, pauses, then quickly drops its passengers toward the ground before coming to a peaceful landing at the bottom. It’s a heart-thumping experience feeling the bottom drop from under you.
“We don’t call it ‘hair-raising fun’ for nothing!” he said. “Our guests this summer will enjoy being among the first to experience this new ride and continue making magic memories with their families.”
Wampler said Magic Springs has rides for guests of all ages and all levels of bravery. One of the “thrill” rides is the Sky Shark, which gives riders the experience of sky diving, hang gliding and bungee jumping all at once (as if one of those alone weren’t exciting enough). Then there is The Gauntlet. The yellow looping ride is visible long before you arrive at the front gates, its peaks peeking out next to the Brain Drain above the surrounding forest.
For those who aren’t looking for as much heart-pounding excitement, there are classic bumper cars, small roller coasters and the Rum Runner Pirate Ship. Young children aren’t forgotten, either; there are many colorful age-appropriate rides just for them. And they still have the classic Magic Springs rides that parents can now ride again with their kids.
“The first time I took the kids to Magic Springs we must have done the log ride at least a dozen times and had our pictures made — we’re all trying to take goofy pictures the entire time we’re going down the ride,” Yakoubian said, laughing.
Water park added
Once only an amusement park, Magic Springs in 2000 added a water park, Crystal Falls, as part of its efforts to continue to provide guests with new experiences. Adding the water park was a natural choice for Magic Springs, Wampler said. After all, the park is tucked away in the Ouachita Mountains amidst the area’s beautiful lakes: Catherine; Hamilton; and Arkansas’ largest, Ouachita.
Crystal Falls includes many activity areas, a wave pool, water slides and areas to sit back and enjoy tube-floating along the Kodiak Canyon River Adventure. And every Friday in July, the park offers “Dive-In Movies,” projecting a kid-friendly movie beside the wave pool so you can enjoy the film while you float.
“It’s not every day that your family can watch a favorite movie together while relaxing in the Magic Springs wave pool,” Wampler said.
Crystal Falls immediately became a summer holiday favorite for the Ragsdills.
“We can spend the day splashing and riding rides,” Ragsdill said. “And it’s fun for all of us.”
Rides and slides aside, even if you are visiting the city for other reasons — like hiking, boating or being pampered in one of the city’s many spas — Magic Springs hosts concerts with acts for all musical tastes at the park’s state-of-the-art concert venue. Already the 2018 Summer Concert Series has hosted concerts by Vertical Horizon and Sister Hazel, Granger Smith, Crowder and Kansas, plus a 1980s Hair Band festival featuring Queensryche, Warrant and Great White. Country superstar Martina McBride also played the venue.
July concerts include Toby Mac, Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult, Seether and Skillet. In August and September, concert-goers will be treated to performances from the American Country Music Awards’ new female vocalist of the year, Lauren Alaina. Also taking the stage in separate late-summer concerts are En Vogue, Jacob Sartorius and Banda Carnaval. Magic Springs’ Season Pass includes free admission to the Summer Concert Series.
“As you can see from our new thrill ride, the water park and our concert series, the team at Magic Springs is pleased to know we offer something special for each of our guests,” Wampler said. “And that doesn’t include the happy memories our guests take with them.”
Ragsdill said she loves that there are still plenty of integral elements to the park, like the shows, log ride and swings ride, that loom large in her childhood memories.
“It’s great they can introduce new things and embrace growth and change for new generations, and still have nostalgia for older generations,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of places like that.”
For more information visit www.magicsprings.com