By Bethany Good
Adventure Park USA is Frederick County’s only Family Entertainment Center; with both a large indoor facility filled with all kinds of fun and physically active attractions, plus a host of thrilling outdoor amusement rides and games. With all of this, plus so much more, Adventure Park USA is truly a one of a kind place. So it would make sense for such a unique place would have an equally unique history. This is the story of one family’s version of the American dream, and the passion, hard work and dedication it takes to make that dream a reality.
Adventure Park USA owner Larry Stottlemyer started out as a small-time print setter in a local print shop in Rockville, MD. In 1965 he met his soon to be wife Angie and took her on a date to Rockville Putt-Putt golf and games. Little did he know that this experience would plant the seed for an idea that would only be realized years later. One night as he drove past that same Rockville Putt-Putt golf and games, he wondered what it might be like to own a place like it for himself. Larry was eager to learn all that he could about how to run such a business, so he asked the owner to mentor him.
In 1980, Larry was finally able to open Frederick Putt-Putt Golf and Games on Thomas Johnson Drive in Frederick, but building a business from the ground up is not without its own set of challenges. “I always tried to surround myself with people that knew the things I didn’t know. I’m not an accountant, so I hired one. I don’t know anything about contracts, so I hired a lawyer I could trust. I think you need to be smart enough to know what your weaknesses are, and find people to help you with those weaknesses,” he says.
The economy of the early 1980s was highly volatile, and just a few short years after opening, the Stottlemyer family found themselves in bankruptcy court. Despite all of these financial hardships, Larry would not give up on his dream. Through sheer will and perseverance, he managed to find a few like-minded people to help keep his business afloat.
As the years went on, they added Bases Loaded Batting Cages and West World Laser Tag. “We got so busy with laser tag, that we had no choice but to move so we could expand. People weren’t going to keep coming if they have to wait 2 hours to play a game of laser tag. We just didn’t have space to put all of our guests,” he says. Larry began to formulate an idea for a new larger facility that would include a Go-Kart track and two mini-golf courses. “It took 7 years of planning, dreaming and designing to get ready for Adventure Park USA. It’s always been a family effort.”
He was able to secure a plot of land in Monrovia, MD, but life never works out quite the way we want it to. In 2003, just as the family was getting ready to break ground on their brand new park, their funding fell through. “My wife and I invested every penny we made from selling Frederick Putt-Putt Golf and games into Adventure Park. I’ve always been 100% invested.” Larry was able to convince local investors to put up the rest of the funding. Finally, they had enough to break ground and begin construction on his dream. A few years later, the Stottlemyer’s opened Adventure Park USA to the public.
When asked about what Adventure Park USA means to him, Larry can’t help but get a little emotional. “This place is more than just brick and mortar to me. It’s more than just wood, nails and screws. It’s my heart and soul. If something were to happen, and this place got taken away, it would be like losing a part of myself.”
Now that Larry is getting older, he's decided to take a less active role in the daily goings-on in the park. "It's difficult for me, but it's time to pass the torch on to my son and son-in-law," he says. With this in mind, I sat down with Larry's son and Adventure Park USA COO Erik Stottlemyer to ask him about the history behind some of the park's most popular rides, and what they have in store for the future.
Let’s start with your indoor entertainment center. What’s the story behind West World Laser Tag?
ES: In the mid-90s, my father was always looking for ways to expand the business. We would try different things to see what worked. At the time, laser tag was becoming very popular, so we decided to put one in at Frederick Golf and Games. My father loves old Westerns, he’s a huge fan, and so he decided to design it in that style. In fact, his favorite Western is called West World, so that’s why we named it that. We hand designed the entire town on the inside, which was all built by my family. We built the entire building, all 2,500 sq. feet of it. In the game, we took you back in Texas Ted’s Time machine, and we shot some homemade videos for it. It was very fun and kooky, we had a great time with it. People from all around would come to play it, they would drive from states away to come and play. It was very popular.
What can you tell me about Hologate Virtual Reality?
ES: We got that February of 2018. It’s been a huge hit. It’s a very unique arcade game. It is a totally immersive 4-D experience. Maybe you’re throwing snowballs at one another, or fighting Zombies. Every so often the company will upload a new game. So we have some really great things coming down the pike like the Angry Birds 2 (™) game. The Hologate virtual reality experience is second to none.
Usually, bumper cars are an outdoor attraction, but you have them inside. Tell me a little about Spinzone Bumper Cars.
Originally we had that space designated for the arcade, and we’ve tried some other things there. It’s a really fun ride, and it’s a great use of space. If it’s hot outside you just get to come in and cool off, maybe goof off and have some fun.
What was the first roller coaster that you acquired for Adventure Park USA?
The first roller coaster was the Wild Cat. It’s a ¼ mile-long track, speeds of up to 40 mph, and we generally get around 80,000 riders per year.
The history behind this ride is quite amazing. The Wild Cat was originally designed by Anton Schwartzkopf, who is actually considered the godfather of the all-steel roller coaster. It might be the very first roller coaster car that Anton actually hand-built. For a time it was used as a display at the IAAPA (The Global Association for the Attractions Industry). It was ordered by the Anheuser Busch company for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. At the time it was called Die Wildkatze was put into the German section of the park, which is interesting because it’s a German-built ride.
In 2006 I was interested in bringing a roller coaster into the park. I got word that a gentleman named Morgan Hughes was selling the Wild Cat from his park in Pennsylvania called William's Grove. Mr. Hughes was one of the most interesting people that I've ever met. He told me that he used to hobnob with the Disney family, and he was also friends with Anton Schwartzkopf. It was a very memorable experience for me because I got to meet a man who was quite a legend in the industry and buy my very first rollercoaster.
Can you tell me a little about the history of the Wild West Express?
It’s 53 feet tall and 1,413 feet long. The coaster was a combined manufacturing effort between 2 Italian based companies. The first company was called SDC, and they primarily built large coasters. Unfortunately, SDC ran into financial trouble, and they had to file for bankruptcy. At the time Zamperla was a small company that primarily built children’s rides. So the 2 companies partnered together to manufacture the coaster. The Wild West Express was the very first coaster that they built together. The owner of Zamperla wanted to grow his company, and so eventually he bought SDC. The coaster was shipped to the US, and for a while, it sat in a warehouse.
In 1997, a park in Kissimmee, Florida called Old Town bought the ride and they called it the Windstorm. Old Town had the coaster for many years. Then, they started having financial problems, and they had to be foreclosed upon. So I bought it from the foreclosing bank in May of 2015. If you were to buy this ride today, it would probably cost over 4 million dollars. The ride had been treated so badly, it had been really poorly maintained. The former owners had actually painted over it with regular rollers and brushes, it was terrible. When we brought it up here, we had to take it apart and completely refurbish it. We have a shop in the park with engineers and everything you need to rebuild and maintain rides. We wanted to restore it to its former glory, and that’s what we did.
How did you come to acquire the Skycoaster?
The Zamperla company has a park in New York called Luna Park on Coney Island. The Skycoaster was right at the entrance of the park. The Skycoaster was built by Ride Entertainment Group, which is a company right out of Maryland. In 2014, I was in Kissimmee, FL with my brother-in-law Kevin and we went to a theme park called Fun Spot America. They have a Skycoaster that’s 250 feet tall, and we decided to ride it. We were completely floored by how much fun it was. When we got off the ride I looked at Kevin and I said, “We need to get one of these in Adventure Park.”
Fast forward to 3 years later, a friend of mine who’s in the industry calls me up and says, “Hey, I have a Skycoaster for sale, do you happen to know anyone who might want to buy it?” And I said, “Yeah, I might know someone who wants to buy it.” So we brought it into the park. I’ve rebuilt, refurbished and erected most of the rides in this park myself, or with the help of a few other people.
Are there any new or upcoming outdoor rides that you are excited about?
ES: Yes, we’re going to have a Ferris Wheel, and the story behind it is really quite amazing. From day one I wanted a Ferris Wheel in the park. This ride was built in 1974 by the Eli Bridge Company for City Park in New Orleans. The municipality actually owns the park. What’s so unbelievable is that this ride actually survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Because of its location, it was at a high enough elevation that it managed to withstand the storm and not be flooded at all. It was fully operational, there were no mechanical issues at all. Technically, they could’ve turned it on the next day, it was still in great condition.
Later on, when they were rebuilding City Park, some of the funds were earmarked to replace the ride. So they went back to the Eli Bridge Company and ordered a brand new Ferris Wheel. The old one was lovingly taken down and replaced by the new Ferris Wheel. Luckily, I was able to buy it, and bring it up here to Frederick. Right now we’re in the process of repainting it, but it should be ready to go soon. I’m really excited about it.
What do you enjoy the most about this job?
ES: It changes and varies. I had no idea what I was getting into when I first bought the Wild Cat. I had trusted this local company to do the work for me, and they ended up not delivering anything. So, I had to do all the work myself. I worked so hard to restore the Wild Cat that I almost killed myself. I would spend 20 hour days sandblasting and repainting the coaster. Then I would crawl into the crane I had rented and sleep for a few hours, and then get up and do it all over again. I am a mechanical person, so I love that kind of stuff.
The first week that I was running the ride, a father and son got off the rollercoaster, and the kid was so excited that he was yelling and jumping around. The father looked over at the son and said “Yes! That was your first roller coaster ride.” I get goosebumps from head to toe just thinking about it. Everyone thinks about how they are going to be remembered, what’s your legacy, how are people going to remember you? Whether or not people know me personally is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. People don’t really get to see the love and care that I put into the park. They are at a facility that I had a direct influence in, and I was directly responsible for bringing these rides in. They are having first time experiences, lifetime experiences. They are having a great time and really enjoying themselves in something that I had a hand in building.
What exciting new things do you have coming up for your indoor family entertainment center?
We are undergoing some huge changes around here. Over the past 12 years, we’ve added a lot to the outside of the park, and now we want to focus on the inside. I want to have someplace to play in the wintertime. You know when you’re out and about during the bad months, when it’s raining or just not nice weather, you can come to Adventure Park and play. No one wants to be cooped up when it’s nasty outside. We have a great place to come and have a blast indoors. In the fall, we will be adding beer and wine to our facility.
We are in the process of completely revamping our Prize Redemption center. The prize games are going to be huge. You can really win some cool stuff now. We are partnering with some local businesses as well as Best Buy and Amazon and we are going to be giving away everything from Flat Screen TVs to bicycles to Kayaks and everything in between. Everybody can play for something they really want. People can have fun playing their favorite games to win prizes. It’s a win-win.
We’ll be getting these new RFID wristbands, which you can scan to ride rides or play games. It’s a more efficient payment system. It will be better than putting money on a card because if you lose your card the money could be lost as well. You’ll be able to load all of your credits into our online system for free, and it will keep track of everything for you. It’ll be very simple to access your account to see your game credits and tickets. We’re also bringing the Froghopper inside, so people will be able to ride it all year round.
As you can see, Adventure Park USA is a company built on one local family’s passion for fun and entertainment. It is the story of hard work and dedication in the face of all kinds of opposition. It is the story of the American Dream.
Adventure Park USA wants you to be part of their family! Join their VIP program, and you will be eligible for 10% off at the door, plus a surprise monthly gift. Sign up for the VIP newsletter to get the latest information on their exciting upcoming promotions and events.
Bethany Good is a freelance writer from Frederick.