Want to operate a backhoe or bulldoze cars? Potential new theme park could put power in your hands.

One redevelopment idea for Forest Park in Harrison Twp. is to build a construction-based theme park where kids would be able to operate backhoes and adults might be able to crush cars with heavy machinery.

“There’s only a couple of these in the country,” said planner Joe Nickol. “Think of them as life-size sandboxes.”

An adventure recreation park like one called Diggerland in New Jersey was one of the big-picture proposals for the Harrison Twp. site presented to residents last week by Nickol, who worked on the plans for MKSK Studios.

Diggerland, which opened in 2014, is a hands-on construction theme park where children and adults operate actual heavy machinery. Guests can strap into backhoes, get spun around in excavator buckets, operate dump trucks, and feel what it might be like to get dumped from a trailer 34 feet in the air and ride a scissor lift up 60 feet.

Credit: Diggerland USA

Credit: Diggerland USA

But don’t get too high on the idea yet.

Planners are looking at three other alternatives, including one popular with residents that would create a new village square anchored by a relocated Harrison Twp. Government Center.

Two other alternatives for the 54-acre Forest Park site in Harrison Twp. include transforming the area into an advanced manufacturing and research hub or a center of agricultural research and small-batch processing.

A Diggerland-like concept would connect the location with its past as an amusement park when people flocked to ride the rollercoaster at Frankie’s Forest Park, Nickol said.

“Those are the memories people have,” he said. “But today this is an opportunity to create a new experience.”

Tickets for the family-oriented Diggerland USA in West Berlin, N.J., begin at $34.95 for individuals 42 inches tall or above, $29.95 for those 42 inches. Non-participating guests over 65 years in age and guests under 36 inches are free. Some attractions may have an additional cost.

For adults opting to operate the big machines at Diggerland XL, the costs range from $129 for an hour-long session to $387 for three hours. An adult can smash a car for an additional $395, according to Diggerland’s  website.

During the early-20th century, people also went to the Frankie’s Forest Park to see wild animals at a zoo, dance and watch car races. The amusement park closed in 1958. Later, Forest Park Plaza, Dayton’s earliest open-air retail center, opened on the site anchored by a JCPenney.

County Corp. and partners including Harrison Township, Montgomery County and other area businesses and organizations are working to redevelop the Forest Acre site south of Shoup Mill Road between Main Street and Riverside Drive.

The construction-based theme park featured on one of the four proposals would take up about 10 acres of the site. Another 20 acres would be devoted to an adventure park with zip lines, high ropes, nets and tree bridges.

But a construction-based theme park alone would not sustain the site, Nickol said.

“If we were just to do that, it probably wouldn’t be the most successful thing to make a long-term positive impact to the neighborhood around it,” he said.

Training and co-working spaces for the building trades would help plug “a major gap” in the shortage of skilled workers, Nickol said.

Some area residents like Arvie Schieltz are skeptical that a construction-based theme park would have much of a lifespan.

“The digger thing sounds like it would be fun maybe one time, but I don’t know how long it would last,” said Schieltz, 71. “I could see promoting the trades.”

Nickol said if the final development plan includes a Diggerland-type park and it becomes less popular over time, little will have been lost.

“The nice thing is that it’s very light on the land from an investment standpoint,” he said. “So when that concept fades away, we can redevelop the site.”

Credit: Diggerland USA

Credit: Diggerland USA

About the Author