We are in the middle of the time of year where we see countless Counts, Hundreds of Haunts, a Smattering of Spirits and other such phenomena appearing around the country (and the world) as we approach Halloween. But sometimes we feel & see things a bit different than during the spooktacular time of year...
Years ago, my corporate masters sent me on a mission to work at a small commuter airline in Nashville, TN which was to become part of the parent airline's affiliate program. Told to "Go west, young man" by my bosses did not thrill me in the least; I'd finally settled into a life which I'd become accustomed to in the urban northeast. So with the threat of unemployment looming over me, I chose to stay working, packed up my ancient Honda and drove to my new home... In Nashville.
Arriving in Nashville in the late spring was a bit of an eye-opener; the city itself presented as being that of a cornerstone of music & industry, and where tourism ruled the roosts. Countless numbers of faux tourist traps lined several main throroughfares throughout the city; and along the banks of the river lay the Opryland Hotel & Conference Center. Along with this came the eponymous Grand Old Opry - and the many museums & tourist attractions there.
But notably, one part of Nashville's vibrant history was surprisingly silent... Opryland itself.
By the end of the 90s, the Gaylord Family had chosen to exit the theme park business entirely; their project at San Antonio (Fiesta Texas) had been sold to Six Flags; and the decision was made to end the nearby Opryland Park as well. Very quietly at the end of 1997, the park shut its doors forever... and was paved over.
Yes, they paved paradise, and put in a parking lot - and a mall.
On the site of the former Opryland park was built another mega-Mills project. Opening in May of 2000, the project had eaten up the entirety of what the park was... and the remaining traces of what had coasters, fun & music was soon plowed over & paved....
Except for one grove of trees...
I went into residence at the Opryland Hotel complex until a corporate apartment could be leased for my duration of six months there. The upscale resort featured some many wonderful features, including a ride-through of the bayou (In the 'Delta' section), indoor fireworks, countless restaurants & beautiful facilities. Indeed, I found Cafe Du Monde to be the perfect place to unwind after work with bengiets & chicory coffee, followed by a cocktail or two in the Dive Bar downstairs.
In the early mornings though, I'd walk a loop to the Opry Mills complex from the conference center back to my hotel suite. Every day, I'd walk past a grove of trees, just to the side of the parking lot. And I would get a chill - no matter how warm or cold it was out - walking by it.
This grove of trees was odd: Everywhere else around there was pavement - except for this one cluster of trees. And one morning, I slowed down, took my time, and looked around, and found that this grove of trees was hiding something. Indeed, it was a concrete trough, wide and with hydraulic elements in it... this was the remains of Grizzly River Rapids. The faux rock work remained in place, the water jets, the tubes to make the 'rapids' still intact - almost as if they could restart it at any time.
In the distance, I could see the tunnels that led to the twin lifts to the platform, and the twists of the old course which wrapped around the grove of trees. I walked around the entire grove, realizing that when they had demolished the park, the rapids ride stood almost untouched - with the old stanchions and rope fencing work that once graced a park midway towards CHAOS (The park's Vekoma enclosed coaster). The entrance paths still existed - though blocked only by two old trashcans that bore the Opryland USA logo on them - though faded & cracked from the blistering summer sun.
Every day I passed by it, I could feel the same sense of having something with me - a spirit that was trapped in the grove of trees - it had both feelings of great happiness - and of great sadness & despair. This ghost felt the emotions of the millions of people who rode GRR during its career at Opryland - and it wanted escape. The rest of the park was gone... yet this one lone remainder stood abandoned & alone. And I felt its sadness - the spirit of the ride lived on - but not in joy.
As I look through GoogleEarth, I now see that what was left of Grizzly River Rapids is now gone - sadly to become memories of what once was. I can only hope that in removing this last legacy piece of history, the spirit is now released; the ghost has been able to find peace. It is ironic though that on the same site now occupies an Events Center - with a slide tower now resting on the site. Soon a water park facillity will join this area too - though nothing will bring back the sounds of fun a river rapids once did.