Amusement park celebrates anniversary

When Tim Hollis visits Six Flags Over Georgia, he never misses the Monster Plantation. On this boat ride, friendly monsters caution visitors not to head toward a dangerous marsh.

Hollis, however, doesn't see these brightly colored characters. Instead, as the boat floats along, he imagines the Tales of the Okefenokee, a ride he remembers from his family's annual visits to the park in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Okefenokee ride, which was based on the south Georgia swamp, was replaced by Monster Plantation in 1981.

"It's the same ride with a different interior. In my mind's eye, I am seeing what used to be around every bend," said Hollis, who lives in Birmingham, Ala.

Photos of the Okefenokee can be see in Hollis' book "Six Flags Over Georgia" (Arcadia, $19.99), which is part of the Images of America series. The book, which traces the park's history, features a collection of vintage Six Flags photos.

"As you can tell from the book, my No. 1 ride would have to be the Okefenokee. That was always my absolute favorite," Hollis said.

Since it opened in 1967, the park has gone through a lot of changes. "You have to be able to keep everything fresh," said Melinda Ashcraft, park president for Six Flags Atlanta Properties, which also operates Whitewater and American Adventures.

On Saturday, Six Flags Over Georgia will celebrate the opening day of its 40th season. The park is home to classic rides, like the Dahlonega Mine Train, which was the park's first roller coaster, and bumper cars, as well as newer ones, such as the Goliath. Introduced last year, this coaster is the largest one in the Southeast, Ashcraft said.

The park president has a firsthand knowledge of Six Flags history. Ashcraft got her first job there in 1967. Then 16, she worked as a tour guide on the riverboat ride, which was located in the spot now occupied by Thunder River.

"I got to do these spiels on the riverboat all day long," Ashcraft said.

She continued to work at the park throughout high school and college, where she earned a degree in biology. After graduation, she was offered a full-time job with Six Flags, which she accepted, though she had once intended to go to medical school.

"I already had the amusement park bug," Ashcraft said.

During her 40 years with the company, she has worked at Six Flags properties across the country. She came back to Georgia in 2004 to accept the job as park president and was recently named the company's best general manager.

The park inspires loyalty among its employees. Ashcraft is certainly not the only Six Flags veteran on staff.

Landscaping manager Wayne Mings, 71, is the oldest employee at Six Flags. "It's not a job. It's kind of like my life, I've been here so long," Mings said.

At the park, his department does everything from watering plants in hanging baskets to installing the park's new rides.

Mings is most proud of building Thunder River, which opened in 1982. In this water ride, round boats crash through rapids surrounded by boulders.

The Thunder River rocks are real, in contrast to the cement creations often used at other parks, Mings said. He'll never forget installing them all.

"It was a headache, but that was probably one of the most fun jobs I've done," Mings said. "That was our best job."

Park visitors are often surprised to hear Mings has been working at the park since it opened in 1967.

"The No. 1 thing I hear from people is, 'I wasn't even born when you went to work here,'" Mings said. "Everybody calls me 'the old man.'"

For now, he doesn't have plans to retire. "As long as I have my health, I'm not going to," Mings said.

If you go

•What: Six Flags Over Georgia celebrates its 40th Grand Opening

•When: 10 a.m. Saturday

•Where: Six Flags Over Georgia, located on exit 47 or 46A on Interstate 20 just west of Atlanta.

•Cost: One-day tickets are $49.99 for adults and $29.99 for children under 48 inches tall. Discount tickets are available on the park's Web site. Season passes, good for admission all year, are $69.99.

•Info: Call 770-948-9290 or visit www.sixflags.com/georgia.

Six Flags Rides

The park, which opened in 1967, is filled with classic rides and new attractions. Here's a list of the years that some of the rides were introduced.

n 1967: Dahlonega Mine Train, Railroad, Hanson Cars

•1968: Log Flume, Sky Buckets

•1972: Dodge City Bumper Cars, Riverview Carousel

•1977: Mindbender, Wheelie

•1981: Monster Plantation

•1986: Splashwater Falls

•1992: Ninja

•1997: Batman the Ride

•1999: Georgia Scorcher

•2001: Acrophobia

•2002: Superman Ultimate Flight

•2005: Skull Island

•2006: Goliath

Post staff members share Six Flags memories

As a Gwinnett native, my childhood memories are dotted with Six Flags recollections, such as the Georgia heat nearly melting my shoes on the asphalt sidewalks, then the cool relief of the Log Flume, Splashwater Falls and Thunder River. Water rides were great for a quick cool-off, at least until wet-sock syndrome set in.

- Anna Ferguson, lifestyle reporter

As a 10-year-old, I had a hankering to win a basketball at one of the Six Flags hoop-shooting booths. After spending about $20 trying to win a $5 ball, I was out of money. My parents lent me a final $2, and I made the shot. Apparently, I also impressed an onlooker, who thought I'd walked up and made my first shot. He gave me $2 to shoot for him. I missed. About $14 later, he realized I wasn't actually that good.

- Ryan Crawford, business reporter

I loved the Looping Starship so much I rode it four times in a row. The next day I didn't go to school because I felt like I was still on it.

- Corinne

Nicholson, Deputy Copy Desk Chief

For a Georgia preteen, Six Flags was the perfect setting for hot summers and love. I remember flirting while in line for the roller coaster and sharing some cotton candy and Coke, but one memory sticks out above all others.It was my first time on the infamous Scream Machine, and my crush and I sat on the first row. We were sharing a fun, romantic moment, when it began raining and my Hypercolor shirt changed from blue to pink, to match my flushed cheeks.

- Camie Young, politics reporter

My dad likes to say that he's "just barely afraid of the devil" and I've always believed him. I can remember only two times seeing him really scared. One was when he thought he was having a heart attack. The other was when he rode the Scream Machine at Six Flags. That was 31 years ago, and to this day I've never been on the Scream Machine. If it scared Daddy, I would probably cry like a little baby.

- Nate McCullough, Copy Desk Chief