After being announced as the Amusement Today Golden Ticket Award Winner for Best New Ride of 2016 last fall, it seemed that Dollywood’s state-of-the-art wood launch coaster, Lightning Rod, had finally worked out all the bugs as Fred Grubb, head of Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) accepted the award and explained the trials and tribulations that were seemingly overcome. That sense of closure and completion was reassured when Lightning Rod opened for the season as planned for the Coaster Crew enthusiast event, including nighttime exclusive ride time that had enthusiasts raving.
Fast forward a few months, and the ride’s status is anything but certain. Gone are the rave reviews and excited first-time riders posting their ride photos, and back is the million dollar question, “Is Lightning Rod open?” Over the past few weeks, several visitors to the park have noted it as “Closed For The Day” according to ride signage and the park’s mobile application. Photos have been sent showing the ride’s test seat gone, and the station dark and unattended.
Reports surfaced last week that Rocky Mountain Construction had trucks back on site working on the ride that has been closed for well over two consecutive weeks. Today, the Lightning Rod webpage on the official Dollywood website reading: “IMPORTANT NOTE: As Lightning Rod’s manufacturer, Rocky Mountain Construction, is working to improve the operational consistency of the ride and elevate its performance to Dollywood’s high standards, Lightning Rod’s running schedule will be irregular and subject to periodic closures. We apologize for any disappointment and inconvenience. Please enjoy Dollywood’s newest thrill, Drop Line or one of our other family attractions.”
Two things are certain: First that the ride has been closed for several weeks with few signs of life, and second, that RMC is working vigorously to correct the problem. The extent of that work, however, is uncertain, and may range from replacing the launch system, to replacing the ride trains, all the way to the unthinkable idea of removing the launch and replacing it with a traditional chain lift. Whatever the result, enthusiasts around the globe are crossing their fingers for the best result, and that Lightning Rod can re-open reliably and quickly and fulfill its title of Best New Ride of 2016.
[Feature Image courtesy of Coaster Addict Dwayne.]