Muskegon, MI

The history of Michigan Adventures

Author Ed Anderson
Michigan Adventures is a popular amusement parkPhoto byLarry Pieniazek via Wikimedia

L.R. Beardsley, Dr. E.S. Gillam, Hardin Dey, and Martin Kasichke had an idea to bring a tourist attraction to the Muskegon, Michigan area. They wanted to have a petting zoo, alongside some rides. It was destined to bring in families with children of all ages.

In 1956, the quarter officially founded Deer Park. They opened with llamas, deer, monkeys, chickens, and ducks. Children were delighted to see all of the animals and parents were relieved to have something to do with the family for the day.

MLive reports that attendance was low but growing during the May-October seasons of 1956 and 1957. By 1958, the owners decided to step things up a bit and built the first ride.

That first ride opened when the park was in 1958. It was an Allan Herschel 16-gauge train. They named it the Deep Park Special. Visitors loved it and the park's popularity continued to grow. During this time, the destination's popularity grew exponentially.

Sometime in the early 1960s, Zippia says that ownership of the park changed hands. The founders sold it to Benny Bensinger. He saw this as a potential goldmine and wanted to keep growing its popularity. His vision was to turn it into Michigan's version of Cedar Point.
Michigan Adventures has gone through several owners since it openedPhoto byJeremy Thompson via Wikimedia

New Owner, New Direction

Bensinger's ownership didn't last long. By 1968, he sold it to Roger Jourden for $115,000. Zippia says that the new owner planned a major reboot of the park. He wanted to lean into the rides part of the business and used Cedar Point as the inspiration for his vision.

As he put his plans into motion, Jourden decided that he needed to change the name of the park. It took him a few years but he landed on what he thought would be the perfect name. In 1972, Deer Park officially became Deer Park Funland.

Along with the new name came some new rides. Jourden debuted three new "flat" rides in the 1972 season. MLive reports that the Tilt-A-Whirl, Merry-Go-Round, and Ferris Wheel were all unveiled during this time. It helped to increase attendance at the park once again. It appeared as though the new direction was going to be very lucrative for the park.

Jourden understood that in order to keep things fresh and the buzz coming, he needed to continue to add new rides.

In 1975, the park brought in the Scrambler. This proved to be a hit with the public. Visitors loved it and pushed the park's popularity even more. But Jourden knew better than to sit on his laurels, he decided to go big for the 20th anniversary of the park.

The Spider, Mutlery's Putt Putts (a car ride), and two children's rides were opened in 1976. This propelled the park to new heights in popularity and profit. Everything was turning around and Jourden was pleased with how things were going.

Then came the big move. Deer Park Funland opened the Corkscrew, its first rollercoaster in 1979.
The Corkscrew was the first rollercoaster at Deer Park FunlandPhoto byJeremy Thompson via Wikimedia

Another Manager, Another Name

With the success of the Corkscrew, Jourden saw to it that another rollercoaster was commissioned. In 1983, Logger's Run was introduced. Once again the public loved the ride and thought it was the greatest thing in the park.

There were a few years of the park just operating. Attendance waned a bit but nothing significant or that warranted too much concern. However, Jourden knew that his time as manager of the park was coming to an end.

Parkland Online reports that in 1987, Jourden sold the Spider to Michael Jackson. He put the ride in his Neverland Ranch, which helped make that a tourist destination.

In 1988, Jourden announced that his daughter, Camille Jourden-Mark, would be taking over. Along with that announcement came word that Deer Park Funland would go through another name change. Starting in May of that year, it would now be known as Michigan Adventures.

One of the biggest changes to happen in the 1990s came nearly 7 years into the decade. They introduced phase two of the water park idea that had been being developed for some time. This was designed to draw interest from people closer to the park as well as tourists.

Also in 1997 came the construction of Shivering Timbers. MLive's report on the wooden rollercoasters says that when the ride opened in 1998, it was considered one of the best in the world.

The final change of ownership happened in 2001. Zippia reveals that Cedar Point owner, Cedar Fair bought the park. They paid Jourden nearly $28 million for it and have operated Michigan Adventures ever since.

While not as groundbreaking, they have followed the template of adding new rides every few years to keep interest in the park high.

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Financing Doubt.

Rochester, MI

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