Kennywood Park opens with new roller coaster, updated COVID-19 policies

By Maria Scanga, For The Pitt News

With the summer months in full swing, many Pittsburgh residents are munching potato patch fries and seeking roller coaster thrills at Kennywood amusement park.

Kennywood, located 20 minutes south of Oakland in West Mifflin, has changed its COVID-19 restrictions as Pennsylvania has lifted restrictions for vaccinated individuals. Kennywood’s operations are looking quite different than they did last summer, with a steady return to normal in-person activities in the park.

Mark Frazee, Kennywood’s public relations and social media assistant, said their operations are starting to look more like “pre-pandemic operations with just some modifications.”

Kennywood’s current COVID-19 policies include masks and social distancing only for those who are not vaccinated, and continued limited capacity and several hand sanitizer stations scattered throughout the park.

“We’re starting to have more people visit the park as they get more comfortable, and now we’re able to provide more for people, like extending our operating dates and times,” Frazee said.

Kennywood opened much later in the season last year on July 11. With the pandemic more under control in the United States, it was able to open this year on May 8, and intends on having events well into the fall months, as usual.

Kennywood’s guests have taken notice of the return to normalcy. For Pittsburgh native and Kent State graduate Tara Barone, Kennywood looked relatively normal when she visited on Memorial Day.

“There were definitely people who still had their masks on and they had these social distancing signs, but it was a decent crowd,” Barone said.

One of Kennywood’s biggest changes this season is its brand new steel coaster, aptly named Steel Curtain. It began construction in 2019 with the intention of being open for the 2020 summer season. Due to the pandemic, the coaster was unable to open. 

But already the ride has proved popular since its opening and is busy, with wait times up to two hours long.

Sarah Anderson, a content creator for YouTube’s Coaster Studios, travels the country filming theme park content. Anderson said she found herself going to Pittsburgh on a recent trip and decided to visit Kennywood to ride the Steel Curtain, which she said she enjoyed. 

“I got to ride in the front row, and the scenery is pretty phenomenal from up there,” Anderson said. 

She mentioned that she isn’t usually a fan of coasters with frequent upside-down turns, or “inversions,” but she thought Kennywood did a great job with the coaster’s design. The Steel Curtain reaches a peak height of 200 feet, as well as having nine inversions, a national record.

Frazee, who has ridden the coaster several times, described it as “a winner.” He said its opening has been one of the most exciting changes to the park this year.

“It’s a real thrill and that is definitely the thing that we were by far most excited to have,” he said. 

While the wait time is getting longer for the popular Steel Curtain, the wait times for Kennywood’s other coasters have become shorter. If waiting in long lines for that specific coaster doesn’t sound appealing, being able to hop right on to the other rides is an option. For Barone, she experienced short wait times for most of the rides.

“One thing I noticed was the Phantom’s Revenge’s [empty line], we literally walked right in line and on to the ride,” Barone said. 

Prior to the introduction of the enormous Steel Curtain, Phantom’s Revenge boasted as the biggest rollercoaster in the park. The Steel Curtain now towers over it, with a record loop height of 197 feet. Anderson said its height and design stand out against the other rides. 

“It’s a weird-looking thing when you’re looking at it from far away. It looks like it’s made out of K’Nex,” Anderson said. 

Because the pandemic is not over, Frazee emphasized the necessity of flexibility and adaptation. 

“We’re always ready to adjust and adapt accordingly, and sometimes that can come really fast,” Frazee said.

Anderson noted that any changes to the park because of COVID-19 were positive ones, and only enhanced her experience there. She said she didn’t feel like she was in a risky environment. 

“I never felt unsafe,” Anderson said. “The lines there move pretty quickly, so you’re not in any congested areas for long.”

With the return to normal and the temperatures on the rise, visiting Kennywood is a popular summer activity for Pittsburgh locals. That means more than just riding the coasters, as Kennywood has also created a reputation for its famous potato patch fries, according to Anderson. An Orlando, Florida native, Anderson had never visited the park before but knew about their potato patch fries. 

“If you’re going to Kennywood and you’ve never been there before, you gotta get the fries,” Anderson said. 

Anderson said even though she’d never been to the park beforehand, it was worth the visit because of the fun she experienced with the rides and friendly atmosphere. 

“Even though I had never been there before, it was really cool,” Anderson said. “I just love the history there.”