FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — Lordy, lordy, look who’s 40.
There wasn’t a poster board sign at the bottom of Main Street to mark it, but Carowinds had just about everything else Saturday to celebrate 40 years in business. Tickets Saturday were $40. There was cake. And there were thousands of guests, just like many a Saturday since the park opened in 1973.
Heather Hayes brought daughter Emma Hayes Moshford on Saturday from Hendersonville, N.C. It was their first time at the park. Thunder Road, a bi-state coaster that’s been undulating riders since the mid-70s, made two new fans. An attraction built a decade later and expanded since the current owners took over in 2006 also had Emma’s attention.
“We’ve done a few rollercoasters,” she said. “I want to go to the water park.”
Carowinds began on 73 acres. It’s now on 398, with some original features like the Carolina Skytower still in place. Most every season there’s something new, including Dinosaurs Alive! this season with 30 animatronic, Mesozoic monsters.
Fort Mill High School students Grayson Davis, Joe Black, Michael Stacy and Katherine Wentworth toured the park together Saturday. Davis was a Top Gun fan, but switched his favorite ride to the Intimidator when it opened three years ago as the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in the Southeast.
“I don’t come much during school time, but during the summer especially I will go five, six times,” Davis said. “I get a season pass every single year.”
Black and Stacy have a combined 20 years living in Fort Mill, but neither had been to Carowinds for a couple of years prior to Saturday. Stacy wanted to ride Nighthawk, the park’s “only flying coaster.” Black wanted to see how the park changed in recent years.
“I used to come often when I was a kid, like six or seven times a year,” he said. “I just want to ride all the rides and experience Carowinds.”
Wentworth, a local resident who has lived here less than a year, also went with a newer attraction as her favorite.
“This is my first year here, but it’s been a really good one,” she said. “I love the Intimidator. It’s my absolute favorite.”
Saturday’s events included a ribbon-cutting with two originals, first official visitor James Henderson and Connie Dorn Rist, Ms. North Carolina 1972. The Fort Mill High School marching band performed. Fireworks ended the evening.
Events are planned all summer to celebrate. A list is available at carowinds.com.
A major tourism draw both for Charlotte and York County, Carowinds is a provider of many jobs in the area in addition to tax dollars. It brings guests to hotels and customers to a variety of businesses nearby, from gas stations and firework stands to restaurants.
Lisa Meadows, executive director of the York County Convention & Visitor's Bureau, said the constant additions in the park and the willingness of Carowinds to invest in the area shouldn’t be underestimated.
“We’re very fortunate to have them here,” she said. “Carowinds is the largest gated attraction in the state, and certainly that means a great deal to this entire region.”