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For three decades, Ogle’s Waterpark was a summer mainstay on the strip in Pigeon Forge, an oasis of concrete, sun-faded plastic tubing and chlorine.
It was a beacon summoning tourist teens and locals to frolic and flirt in the Tennessee summer sun.
Of the natural wonders that Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer, a beach-like swimming experience is not one of them. So as the tourist boom of the 50s and 60s gave way into the 70s, a waterpark in the heart of the Smokies seemed a no-brainer.
That it came in the 70s, however, is a little heartbreaking. Had it come early, Ogle’s would have had the charm and style of previous decades. Had it come later, it would have had the advantages of modern design, things like green areas and shade. It would have come with a more aesthetically pleasing concept.
Instead, the park looked like something carved with a bulldozer and constructed out of the same batch of asphalt as the parking lot.
A chain link fence was all that separated Ogle’s from the outside world, leaving little to the imagination of the poor souls stuck in traffic on the parkway and the bathers feeling all-too often like exhibits in a zoo.
Still, somehow, Ogle’s was able to overcome being, to put it kindly, designed in a utilitarian manner, by offering something more.
The real reason we loved Ogle’s Waterpark
Ogle’s Waterpark was once the largest waterpark in the area with six giant water sides, a wave pool, a kid’s play area and snack stations throughout the park.
Slides like the the RipTide Waterslide, the Twin Twister and the Hydro-Chute – a fully enclosed tunnel slide introduced in the early 1990s – were revolutionary for their time.
Ogle’s Waterpark was summer personified, Grand Central Station for the electricity of youth.
Ogle’s was the feeling you get when you close your eyes after spending much of the day in the wave pool, the mechanical ebb and flow of the water pulling at you long after you’d slept off the exhaustion on the ride home, a testament to that fact that your senses are not infallible after all.
Ogle’s was the smell of Coppertone and chlorine and the unbridled pheromones of youth.
Ogle’s was the birthplace of thousands of summer romances and more than a few heartbreaks. An oasis, not just of highly treated chemical water, but of freedom where young men and women learned the various rules and boundaries of games of infatuation they’d play in one form or another for the rest of their lives.
Ogle’s was the place to be just a little too young to understand all that. Pre-teens able to see their own futures in the feints of their older brothers and sisters but not caring quite enough to tear themselves away from their own pursuits, like seeing how many times they could race up the tower and twist their way back down, splashing into the waiting wading pool.
Ogle’s was sunbathing – in those ignorant, cancerous days – and testing the limits of how much heat you could take before dipping into the cooling, chemical waters. It was forgetting to reapply your sunscreen and paying the price the next day.
Ogle’s was perfect.
Then times changed.
What happened to Ogles Waterpark
Ogle’s closed in 2002 for good, and demolished to make way for Waldens Landing in 2003.
Ogle’s was the victim of nothing more than sky-rocketing land values. The simple math was the worth of the land became far more than the park would produce.
But it was more than that. Something else changed with the times.
We’d move past the heady days of the Beach Boys when everybody across the USA wanted an ocean and a surfboard. The titanic waves the 60s beach culture had created – waves that still lingered in my own youth through the 80s like the phantom push and pull from the wave pool – were fading fast.
New, better designed waterparks arose, offering improved family experiences and lots more to do.
There were better rides and slides and lazy rivers and such, but those things came at the cost of types of freedoms we’d enjoyed before.
Or maybe I just got too old to feel like that anymore.
Ogle’s is gone now, lost to the march of time.
Where once the summer passions of thousands of teenagers were lit, now sits Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud.
The times certainly have changed indeed.