VALDOSTA -- Wild Adventures Theme Park unveiled its newest roller coaster on Saturday, and judging by the squeals and screams, The Swamp Thing will soon be among the park's more popular attractions.

The suspended family coaster is Wild Adventure's ninth roller coaster and offers a friendly take on thrill rides, said park President Kent Buescher.

"The Hangman (another suspended coaster) has been such a success for us, except that so many people were intimidated," he said. "So we contracted for a second coaster. This one is not quite as fast, not quite as intimidating, and our younger guests can ride it. It's going to be a great ride."

Unlike some of the larger, faster coasters, children as small as 44-inches can enjoy The Swamp Thing, while the banked corners and quick acceleration still pack a punch.

"At 38 mph, this isn't as intimidating as some of (the rides). It's sort of a middle-of-the-road ride with enough of a kick and a thrill that nobody will be disappointed. I'm really excited to open this today," Buescher said.

Even with the ride open, work will continue on the scenery. Buescher said plans call for an alligator pool surrounding the base of the coaster so that riders will have the impression of hurtling straight toward the reptiles before veering back to the sky.

The Swamp Thing will anchor a refurbished area of the park previously called the Alapaha Preserve, which houses much of Wild Adventures' animal population. Buescher said another ride will be built in that area of the park next year, and other new attractions will also be added.

"This is an important part of the educational mission of the park," Buescher said of the area.

The first groups off the new ride were all smiles and several immediately headed to the back of the line for another go.

The occasion started off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring park personnel and local elected officials.

It is shaping up to be a busy summer for what is already the largest theme park in the Southeast. A new water park is slated to open in the coming weeks. The first phase will feature a winding river similar to those in other water parks and a "rain fortress" that Buescher said will be the largest treehouse complex in North America. A second phase will include a tube slide complex and a wave pool. The entire water park will be operational by mid-June.

"That will kind of round out the attraction mix we have at Wild Adventures," he said.

Buescher said he hopes the new additions will cement the park as a premier family destination.

"We think it's the best value entertainment park in the country," he said. "We offer something designed for families with children of any age, but we have significant numbers of guests that are seniors and teen-agers. We attract a lot of different guests based on the mix of what we offer."

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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