Kennywood: A Pittsburgh summer classic

By Larissa Gula


4800 Kennywood Boulevard

West Mifflin, PA 15122

412-461-0500 or Kennywood

4800 Kennywood Boulevard

West Mifflin, PA 15122

412-461-0500 or

When Pitt student Mike Cherpak heads to work every day, he can look forward to a calming day of work, even if everyone around him is screaming.

After working at Kennywood for six years, Cherpak — a Pittsburgh local and Pitt junior — has a good idea about how Kennywood works, at least in terms of park maintenance. He supervises the amusement park-clean up. He said his department offers a laid-back work environment and that the daily similar clean-up routine is also “very calming.”

But wait: what is Kennywood? Put simply, it’s something all Pittsburgh locals know about. It’s actually a bit like the Steelers – if you live here, you better love it.

Entering its 113th season of operation, Kennywood has been around since 1898.

While the park doesn’t release specific attendance figures, 2.1 million people total visit Kennywood or one of its local sister parks, Idlewild and Sandcastle annually, according to public relations spokesperson Jeff Filicko.

According to their website, the Pittsburgh Kennywood amusement park was founded by a railway company, in essence giving the transportation system extra income — trolleys would take people to the amusement park and the company overall would make extra money.

But by 1902 the company was tired of operating Kennywood.

They sold Kennywood to new owners, and over the last century the park changed hands and expanded to include new rides for all ages.

Today it still stands as a “traditional amusement park” even as it adapts to the 21st century, according to the Kennywood website.

“We’re not your mega-plastic, metal-everywhere park,” Filicko said, explaining that Kennywood visitors can ride the “best blend of rides” from metal and wooden coasters to water rides, down to a very slow historical train ride.

Visitors can also bring picnic baskets and eat at picnic tables in parts of the park, or they can purchase typical amusement park foods.

Kennywood recently underwent another ownership change, but Filicko does not feel this has affected the park.

“The main difference is the new ownership structure tends to be on the business aspect,” Filicko said. “The main reason they bought us was they liked the park and the way we ran, so they’re more content to let us run as usual and make changes to the business aspect of things.”

Safety is also a priority at Kennywood.

Filicko said every ride goes through a saftey inspection and has to be signed off before it’s open to the public.

The safety inspection process seems to work; Kennywood’s last publicized accident was caused by bad weather in 2002, when the roof of a ride called The Whip collapsed. One woman was killed. No rides with found problems open, meaning the most harm that comes to guests is frustration when a favorite ride closes for a day.

Cherpak supervises the crew that runs trash pick-up, as well as maintaining the picnic grounds.

He begins his work shift around 11:30 a.m. and, depending on how late the crowds stay, does not go home until 10 or 11 p.m.

The shifts are very similar and not very exciting, he said.

When  he’s not on the clock, he can ride whatever he wants in the park, and he definitely recommends certain things to all first-time visiting students.

“The obvious answer for what [Pitt students] should eat is the Potato Patch Fries,” Cherpak said.

He also recommended the Phantom’s Revenge coaster ride as a must; but he added that the new Kennywood coaster might be better. He hasn’t had the chance to ride it yet.

The Sky Rocket is “ little bit different” from a traditional coaster, Filicko said.

Instead of the coaster “clicking” its way up a hill on a chain, Sky Rocket is literally launched up a hill from its station and up a starting hill

The ride is “about 65 seconds long, which seems short, but is every bit as long as the Phantom,” Filicko said.

Cherpak will continue to work at Kennywood during the fall, when the park hosts its annual Phantom Fright Nights. Deals directed at college students are easiest to find during the fall, but Kennywood bargain tickets are available now, too.

“Typically at any given time there are multiple discounts for Kennywood,” Filicko said. “Our college discounts tend to appear toward Fright Nights, as it’s more conducive to when students are around.”

With a new ride in its fleet, Kennywood Park might not have anything new occurring right away — but if history says anything, there will be more changes soon enough at the park.

“There’s nothing definite yet for future plans, but consistently we tend to open new rides or bring back a classic ride,” Filicko said.