Conemaugh Valley High students take a ride on Kennywood's new SwingShot. They are Nick Freidhoff, dan Pollino and Kayla Brandle. Photo by Todd Berkey/ The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, PA.

Shane Bimeal of Mineral Point described Kennywood’s newest white-knuckle ride with one word: Insane.

He made the declaration after riding SwingShot, a 65-foot-tall pendulum that propels riders in a mighty swinging motion to create an experience of weightlessness.

The ride gains speeds of nearly 50 mph and heights up to 75 feet.

“It’s probably the best ride in the park,” said Bimeal, 18, a senior at Conemaugh Valley High School, Johnstown. “It’s more wicked than you would think just looking at it from the ground.”

Bimeal and dozens of his classmates were at the West Mifflin amusement park as part of an education day when students from across the region apply math, science and architectural skills in relation to amusement rides.

The facial expression of Corey Statler, 16, of Daisytown, a junior at Conemaugh Valley, spoke volumes.

He was wide-eyed and smiling as he exited the SwingShot gate.

“There is nothing else like it,” he said. “It felt like you were going to flip off the end as the ride reached its peak.”

SwingShot features two sets of 16 seats, arranged back to back.

Adding to the excitement is the absence of padded shoulder restraints typically found on such rides.

“There was just a bar across my lap” Bimeal said.

“That added to the excitement.”

Such enthusiasm is music to the ears of park officials when they realize the $3 million invested in the new attraction is paying off.

Mary Lou Rosemeyer, Kennywood’s public relations director, said the response to the ride has been tremendous.

“It’s an intense ride,” she said.

“We knew we had a winner when we saw our team members coming back cheering during some of the early test rides.”

Amusement parks around the region are ready to welcome an influx of visitors.

Rosemeyer sees high gas prices as a double-edge sword when it comes to drawing visitors.

“While we know we will draw guests from western Pennsylvania, we also appeal to our visitors from northeastern Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, who we are eager to welcome.”

Visitors will find old favorites that would delight any thrill seeker.

Kennywood has been dubbed by some people as “America’s Favorite Traditional Amusement Park.”

It features a number of old wooden roller coasters along with a newer steel coaster, the Phantom’s Revenge.

Phantom’s Revenge was originally named The Steel Phantom. It was reincarnated for 2001 and has a drop of 232 feet and a top speed of 85 mph.

The park will revel in “Celebrate America” from June 28 through July 3.

“This is a red, white and blue salute,” Rosemeyer said.

There will be roaming stilt walkers, mimes, unicyclists, jugglers and magicians.

“At 6 each evening, we will have a parade wind its way through the park,” Rosemeyer said. “Topping off each evening of the celebration will be an all-American fireworks display.

Parks have become so competitive that new rides, renovations and attractions have be-come must-haves for survival.

Kennywood is no exception.

Several new shows have been added to the entertainment lineup. The park boasts a daily high-dive show. The All-American High-Dive Show is produced by eight-time world high-diving champion Dana Kunze.

“He still holds the record of more than 200 feet, but our maximum dive is about 80 feet,” Rosemeyer said. “We will have four diving shows daily and five shows on weekends.”

Visitors will thrill at divers performing acrobatic moves, clown diving and simultaneous dives by four performers entering a 10-foot deep pool from two springboards and high-dive platforms of 30 and 50 feet.

There also are two new magic shows.

“In Your Face Magic” is a 25-minute production featuring close-up illusions and stage magic. The shows are performed on the Kennyville stage.

Children aren’t forgotten when it comes to magic.

“AbraKIDabra,” featuring a group of talented magicians, will perform daily on Kiddieland’s new Toyland Stage.

No amount of magic could convince Lianna Weir, 17, of Franklin Borough to climb aboard SwingShot. She watched in amazement as her classmates came off the ride singing its praises for being such a thrill.

Weir admitted to being afraid of heights and couldn’t be talked into taking a ride.

“I came down to ride the rapids, buy some key chains and eat,” she said. “They have the best funnel cakes and french fries.”

Tom Lavis can be reached at 532-5054 or tlavis@tribdem.com.

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