A hands-on amusement park where kids are allowed to operate heavy machinery and ride on the business ends of construction equipment sounds wildly inventive, thrilling, dangerous, litigious and profitable.
Set to open June 14, the construction-themed Diggerland amusement park will let kids and their families safely drive, ride and operate forklifts, backhoes, tractors, dump trucks and excavators modified for use on a course or made stationary by design.
The first Diggerland in the United States will be built on 14 acres next to Sahara Sam’s Oasis water park in West Berlin, N.J., about 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Since 2000, a heavy machinery rental firm has opened and operated four Diggerlands in the United Kingdom.
Beyond basic theme park rules, visitors are asked only to avoid raising the articulated excavator arms above the cabins of their 7-ton machines. Most of the rides have modest minimum height requirements of 48 inches, with kids as small as 36 inches allowed to ride with an adult.
The park even promises you won’t get dirty -- unless you wipe your hands on your pants after you eat at the Dig Inn cafe.
The marquee attraction at Diggerland is Spin Dizzy, a 20-ton excavator with eight seats precariously attached to the end of a boom arm where a giant scoop bucket is usually located. Riders swing up and down while spinning in circles on an attraction designed for hard-core adrenaline junkies.
For the younger set, the park offers 16 backhoe-like excavators dubbed diggers in three sizes – mini, big and giant.
The Mini Diggers are set up like carnival games where operators knock over bowling pins, dig for buried treasure or pluck a duck decoy out of a pond with the boom arm of a 4,000-pound excavator.
The 3.5-ton Big Diggers and 7-ton Giant Diggers are more businesslike with operators using the claw bucket on the end of the extendable arm to dig and dump dirt. All diggers are secured in position and unable to roll on their tank-like treads.
The Dig-A-Round is Diggerland’s version of a carousel with riders sitting inside a scoop-shaped seat that resembles an excavator bucket rather than abreast a galloping wooden horse.
The Sky Shuttle employs a crane-like forklift with an extendable hydraulic arm that carries 15 passengers up to 50 feet in the air for a bird’s-eye view of the park.
The Ground Shuttle uses the same machine -- sometimes called a telehandler or a loadall -- to take riders on a bumpy off-road ride closer to ground level.
On Backhoe Adventure, up to four riders take turns driving a backhoe on a serpentine course under the watchful supervision of an on-board ride marshal.
Most of the other rides at the park follow that model: letting visitors drive bobcat loaders, mini dump trucks, mini Land Rovers or tractors along a predetermined route.
For those who would rather let the trained professionals do the driving, there are trips offered in a six-wheeled military transport vehicle or a more sedate tram-like train pulled by a yellow construction vehicle.
The U.K. parks host monthly digger races open to amateur drivers as well as appearances by the Dancing Diggers stunt team where drivers perform wheelies and handstands with excavators. The New Jersey park will play host to the Dancing Diggers this summer as well as other performance events.