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How Busch Gardens Williamsburg made InvadR, this theme park’s first-ever wooden roller coaster, seem like it had always been part of the terrain

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How Busch Gardens Williamsburg made InvadR, this theme park’s first-ever wooden roller coaster, seem like it had always been part of the terrain

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It's sometimes been said that a person can't see the forest for the trees. Or the forest THROUGH the trees.

But as Larry Giles - Busch Gardens' vice president of Engineering - looked out on the lush forest that still makes up much of the 383-acre site where this theme park was built back in the mid-1970s, Larry knew what he wanted to see traveling through those trees. And that was Williamsburg's very first-ever wooden roller coaster.

Mind you, given that Busch Gardens Williamsburg has - since 1990 - been recognized by the National Amusement Parks Historical Association (NAPHA) for being the world's most beautiful theme park ... Giles wanted to make sure that any attraction that he & his team added to BGW would then help it maintain that reputation.

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"When the original designers of this theme park first walked the land deciding what would go where, they decided that Busch Gardens should be different. That all of Williamsburg's rides, shows and attractions would try and fit in with the natural terrain. So that - as you walked around this theme park - things would then naturally reveal themselves," Larry explained during a recent phone interview. "And given the genius of that idea, how it makes Busch Gardens Williamsburg stand out from any other theme park in the country, we've worked really hard over the past 40+ years to preserve that ambiance, protect its unique look and feel."

Which - when you're looking to weave 2,118 feet of banked track through the woods surrounding this theme park's hamlet of New France - can get kind of tricky. Especially since Giles wanted to remove as few trees as possible during the construction phase of this project.

"That's why - before we actually locked the final design of this ride - we actually walked its proposed construction site with our landscaping team. These are the people who deal with the trees that we have here at Busch Gardens Williamsburg every single day. And they helped us determine which trees were important when it came to preserving the overall ambiance of this park," Larry continued. "And once we had that info, we then went back and literally design our ride around a lot of those trees."

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Mind you, one of the benefits of doing this sort of super-specific land survey prior to the start of construction is that Giles & his team were then able to identify the ravine where - once they routed this attraction through that topographical feature - would then give this coaster a naturally occurring 74-foot plunge. Which - in turn -- would then allow this new thrill ride to reach speeds of almost 50 miles per hour.And deliberately leaving all of those trees in place wasn't the only eco-friendly aspect of this project. Take - for example - where Giles & his team found the cars for this coaster.

"Our sister park down in Tampa had a ride called Gwazi that GCI - Great Coasters International - had built for them. Well, that wooden coaster closed in February of 2015. Which meant that the cars that had been used on that ride were now available to us to reuse as part of the wooden coaster that we wanted to build up here in Williamsburg," Larry said. "So we went down to Tampa Bay to survey these Gwazi cars. And while they obviously had a few miles on them, they were still very, very reusable."

So Giles had all of these coaster cars shipped north. Whereupon their arrival in Williamsburg, that theme park's maintenance team completely stripped them down and - after NDTing every weld & replacing every bearing - they then repainted these cars.

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"Our goal - once we got these Gwazi cars - was that we wanted to make them brand-new," Larry boasted. "And I'm pretty sure that anyone who rode Busch Garden Williamsburg's new wooden coaster on opening date thought that they were sitting in a brand-new vehicle."

As for the ride itself, Giles wanted this attraction to look like it had always been part of the fabric of this theme park. Which is why - in addition to weaving this wooden coaster's track through the decades-old trees that make up the forest which Busch Gardens Williamsburg is set in - Larry also carefully threaded this ride in & around several of the park's previously existing attractions.

"Which is why - as this coaster is lifting up -- it actually lifts up over Le Scoot. Which is Busch Gardens Williamsburg's log flume ride. And then when it comes to how this coaster interfaces with the train that circles this theme park ... Well, this coaster actually goes over the Busch Gardens Railway four separate times. Which means that - when you're riding on this theme park's train - you're not just seeing our new coaster. You're traveling through this wooden coaster as it zooms around," Giles enthuses. "Which makes even the non-riders feel like they're part of the action."

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Of course, given that Busch Gardens Williamsburg's first-ever wooden coaster has a height requirement of only 46 inches, it's not like most visitors to this theme park will wind up being non-riders.

"That was another one of our goal with this project. We wanted Williamsburg's first wooden coaster to be accessible to as many guests as possible. Not be a kiddie coaster per se. But more of a family thrill ride. An attraction that everyone gets to do, everybody gets to enjoy," Larry stated.

And did I mention the crowd sourcing aspect of this project? Where the park's longtime fans not only got to vote on what Busch Gardens Williamsburg's first wooden coaster would be called (They decided that this Viking themed ride would be called "InvadR") but they also chose this attraction's logo.

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"That was kind of a neat experience. We all had our guesses on which way the fans would go. And a lot of us were wrong, frankly, when it came to the way the naming went and some of the other things we let the fans vote on and pick out," Giles stated. "Me personally, I like the InvadR name. I think that a lot of our park's marketing team thought that the voting was going to go another way. But in the end, the park's fans voted that our new ride should be called InvadR. So that's what Williamsburg's first-ever wooden coaster wound up being called."

Site prep for this project actually got underway in April of 2016. Given InvadR's unique weaving-through-the-trees track layout, pouring the foundations for this attraction took a lot longer than it did with Busch Gardens Williamsburg's other seven coasters. And what with this past winter's wild weather ... Well, let's just say that it was something of a challenge to keep construction of this new thrill ride on schedule.

"As I always tell our construction teams 'Our guests don't care if we were dealing with rain or snow while we were building this thing. All they really care about is - once construction is complete - that this ride is safe, and that it's ready to go,' " Larry stated. "As I recall, during the final phase of construction, we must have a hundred guys onsite every day. I know that - because of all the weather-related delays that we encountered - GCI brought in an extra crew to help us knock out the rest of the track."

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In the end, all that extra effort (including dozens of local contractors that Giles had brought in to help InvadR meet its construction deadline) seems to have been worth it. For - when Busch Gardens Williamsburg's first-ever wooden roller coaster officially opened to the public on April 7th - annual passholders greeted this addition to the park with great enthusiasm.

And the supreme irony here is the name that all these coaster fans ultimately chose for Williamsburg' latest addition: InvadR. For - thanks to all the care & thought that Larry Giles & associates put into the placement and construction of this project - this theme park's first wooden coaster doesn't seem like an invader at all. It looks like it has always been part of the hamlet of New France. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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