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April 20, 2011
With Six Flags Over Texas located close by, it can be easy to take the theme park and its attractions for granted. For Arkansas resident Amanda McCormack, a trip to Six Flags is a big deal.
“I haven’t been here in 15 years,” McCormack said.
She came at a good time. This year, Six Flags Over Texas celebrates its 50th anniversary. The park kicked off its 2011 season with an opening ceremony on March 5, and the celebration will last through the summer with special deals and activities.
The university is also getting in on the festivities, offering an exhibit displaying the early years of Six Flags’ history. The exhibit, titled What You Wish the World Could Be: The Early Years of Six Flags Over Texas, is currently open in the Central Library.
Founded in 1961 by Angus G. Wynne, Jr., president of the Great Southwest Corp., Six Flags first attracted visitors with animal-driven rides. Today, the park features rides such as the Superman: Tower of Power and the ever-popular Texas Giant.
“The first ride was actually a goat cart ride,” said Sharon Parker, public relations manager at Six Flags Over Texas. “To go from a goat cart ride to a super hybrid coaster, it’s been a major journey for the park.”
Part of that journey includes a renovation of the park’s flagship roller coaster, the Texas Giant. The coaster, which first opened in 1990, was closed in 2009 to receive a makeover. It opens again on Friday.
The ride is staying true to its original wooden construction, but the new track features custom-designed steel fabrication. The lift hill at the start of the ride goes up 10 feet higher than before, and the redesigned Texas Giant now has a 79 degree drop, the steepest of any wooden roller coaster in the world. In addition, the track now has a 95 degree bank, also the steepest of any wooden coaster.
The renovated ride pays homage to the Lone Star State with redesigned trains. The new trains are replicas of the 1961 Cadillac Deville, down to the grill and headlights. The hood of each car is decorated with steer horns, and each protective lap bar restraint is custom designed with a saddle horn.
For biology freshman Joey Villanueva, the ride’s closing was difficult to take and he’s certainly ready to get back in the saddle.
“That was my first big roller coaster I ever rode,” Villanueva said. “I loved it. Every time I go to Six Flags, I make sure to go on it. I’m already planning to go back there before I go home.”
Parker said the Texas Giant has always been a symbol of the park’s love for the state.
“With our park having such a rich Texas history, just the name made it an affectionate part of the park immediately,” she said. “It’s appropriate that in our 50th year, we launch a ride like no other. I’ve ridden it five times. On that first drop, if you walk away saying you didn’t feel like you were free falling, you were just on a different ride.”
More celebrations are lined up later this year. On June 18, the park starts its “50 Days of Fun” leading up to its official birthday, Aug. 5. Guests can expect special giveaways of commemorative items and the reopening of fan favorite attraction, Casa Magnetica, a house of optical illusions that appears to defy gravity. The June 18 closing show will feature the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
In another nod to its history, Six Flags is hosting an employee reunion day June 18. Former employees are invited back to see what has changed since they last worked there.
For her part, McCormack plans to celebrate Six Flags’ history by coming back a little sooner than 15 years.
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