Hold tight and get ready to scream, ride lovers: Six Flags Great America may soon have a new wooden roller coaster.
The suburban amusement park is planning to build a coaster that could be as high as 165 feet, and officials hint it might set a record for speed.
Representatives of the Gurnee park went before the village's Planning and Zoning Board Wednesday night to seek a height variance for the ride, said Brandon Bruce, public relations specialist for the park. The panel unanimously recommended approval of the height waiver.
If the plans pan out as expected, the new attraction will be part of a mini-boom in wooden coasters. Although they are far outnumbered by their steel counterparts, several high-profile wooden coasters have caught fans' imaginations in recent years, said Jeremy Schoolfield, editor-in-chief of Funworld Magazine for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
One of the newest is the $10 million Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Mo. The ride, which opened this year, is touted as the first wooden coaster with a steel track top to make a double-inverted barrel roll or to have a nearly vertical drop of more 162 feet. The ride helped bring in 70,000 more people than last year, many of them first-time visitors, spokeswoman Lisa Rau said.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's an economic driver."
Duane Marden, a coaster enthusiast who runs the online Roller Coaster Database from his home near Milwaukee, said he's looking forward to the new Six Flags ride, saying that wooden coasters, without the overhead collars of many metal rides, have a feeling of greater openness and freedom.
"If it's half as good as Outlaw Run, it will be absolutely spectacular," he said.
A century ago, the first roller coasters were made of wood. Steel structures — allowing for more radical twists and turns, upside-down loops and barrel rolls — took off in the 1960s.
Wooden coasters have made a comeback in recent years in part because they cost less to build, and in part because their look, feel and clackety-clack sounds seem to appeal to traditional coaster fans.
Now, steel-wood hybrids attempt to combine the best of both worlds, using the strength, flexibility and smoothness of steel and the aesthetic qualities of wood.
"It's added a whole new dimension to what roller coasters can be," Schoolfield said. "Wooden coasters are in the midst of a renaissance."
New coasters have also helped hold attendance at amusement parks nationwide fairly steady at nearly 300 million annually, the industry association reported.
Bruce declined to give more information about the proposed ride at Six Flags but said more details would be divulged Aug. 29.
Gurnee officials also are remaining tight-lipped, though Mayor Kristina Kovarik confirmed that the ride would be a wooden coaster. The park is hoping to have it up and running by next spring, she added.
"What the village knows, the village isn't giving up," she said. "They asked us to keep it confidential."
A YouTube video released by Six Flags hints at a Guinness World Record, which Kovarik said may have to do with the speed of the coaster.
According to Gurnee's website, the roller coaster is planned for the County Fair area, in the place of the now-shut Iron Wolf coaster.
The Village Board will have the final say on the proposed height waiver.
"I don't anticipate a rocky road on this at all," Kovarik said.