May 22, 2024

Global search for pioneers of world’s first people-powered rollercoaster

Greenwood family park celebrate 20years of the green Dragon roller coaster; Steve Williams and Mark Patterson; Maintenance manager.

A global search has been launched to find the families who rode the world’s first people-powered rollercoaster on its inaugural run 20 years ago.

The Green Dragon celebrates its 20th anniversary on May 22, having been an immediate sensation when it was unveiled at the eco-friendly GreenWood Family Park in Felinheli in North Wales back in 2004.

The iconic attraction has stood the test of time because it’s still a must-ride destination for devoted rollercoaster fans who beat a path to the park from as far afield as America and Japan every year.

Anybody who rode the Green Dragon on the very first day will be given free entry to the park on the special anniversary so they can enjoy the thrill of the rollercoaster once again 20 years later.

Among those looking forward to the celebrations is the park’s former operations manager, Steve Williams, who played a key role during the installation of the planet’s first zero carbon rollercoaster.

Uniquely, the 250-metre track was built to fit around the contours of a wooded hill and goes on a 360-degree loop, hurtling thrillingly through the trees.

What also sets the Green Dragon apart is that it is totally people-powered – without the need of any additional energy from the grid.

Before hopping aboard, customers walk to the top of the hill and ride a lift back down to the bottom, with their weight pulling the empty carriages up the track and back up to the starting point.

The centre’s 30 other rides and attractions also include Solar Splash, powered entirely by solar energy and made up of a huge water slide with two 60-metre wave chutes.

The newest attraction is the £100,000 Forest Glider slide which is the only one of its kind in Wales, standing 20 metres tall with a steep 75-metre drop.

The park is owned by Continuum Attractions whose portfolio includes some of the most successful visitor attractions in the UK, including the Coronation Street Experience, The Loch Ness Centre and the Emmerdale Village Tour.

Steve Williams has happy memories of the excitement generated by the Green Dragon when it went live just in time for the Whitsun holiday in 2004.

He said: “A people-powered coaster was a unique concept that was way ahead of its time, it was a world first and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it anywhere.

“It was a big hit because visitors loved the concept of using people’s energy and, over the course of the season, it’s carbon neutral as it doesn’t use any external energy.

“The other thing that’s unique is that the ride weaves its way around the beautiful Welsh countryside and the trees.

“Visitors love that it’s fitted around the existing landscape and in harmony with the park.

“It was our first rollercoaster on the park so we had to train the team and we had a lot of testing to make sure everything was 100 per cent right.

“The first day it went live was fantastic. It was incredibly exciting. It was great to see people’s reaction and it was a little bit faster than people expected because it can go 25 mph, so going around corners you get a bit of a buzz.

“The nice thing was for a lot of local children it was their first ever rollercoaster ride and that was really special – the staff really liked that.”

Equally excited about the anniversary is maintenance manager Mark Patterson, a former Royal Navy marine engineer.

Mark and his family fell in love with GreenWood when he visited with his wife and two daughters and a few years later he jumped at the chance of working there.

He recalled: “We started bringing the kids to GreenWood. There was nowhere like it – the kids were very young and it was like a magical place for them. We’d spend the whole day here and they would be absolutely exhausted.

“I love working here because you’re dealing with happy, smiley people who are having a good time whereas engineering in a factory is a lot more dour and you don’t have the feelgood factor so much. It was a happy choice.

“The Green Dragon is a focal point for the park, it’s what we’re well known for. What makes it all worthwhile is seeing all the smiles on people’s faces as they hurtle round – and you can hear the screams and giggles. It’s a ride for all ages.

“We have lots of new rides at GreenWood but this rollercoaster is evergreen and just as popular as it has ever been.”

Mark added: “There are a lot of rollercoaster enthusiasts out there who go around the world riding the biggest and the most special coasters and we do get a lot of them who visit here.

“They phone up asking if they can come to ride it and take pictures because of the people powered side of it. It’s something unique that they have not seen before.

“We’ve  had people from America, Japan and across Europe all beating a path to GreenWood – the Green Dragon is a must ride rollercoaster on the world stage.”

The park’s manager, Andrew Baker, said: “The 20th anniversary of the Green Dragon is a momentous milestone in the history of GreenWood which was originally founded in 1993 and has pioneered the idea of green tourism.

“Our ethos is more relevant today than it has ever been with climate change focusing people’s minds on the need to live and play more sustainably for the sake of the planet.

“It’s great to see Steve back here because he has played such an important role in the development of GreenWood as a fantastic visitor attraction.

“We have now launched an appeal to find other staff members who were here when the Green Dragon went operational as well as customers who rode the rollercoaster on that historic first official day on May 22 in 2004 so they can join us for the anniversary celebrations.”

Anybody who rode the Green Dragon on the first day should contact Daniel Kemp by emailing him at [email protected] so he can arrange free entry on the special anniversary.