Nestled in the cornfields outside of Ross, on 25 acres of land, sits Stricker's Grove, which holds the distinction of being America's only private amusement park. The family-owned enterprise rents itself out to church groups and other organizations from this month through October. "All of our picnics have right of first renewal," says Debbie Stricker Ziegler, who handles the park's scheduling. "Last year we had 87 picnics and 84 came back." That, of course, left only three open slots, and to fill those she went to her lengthy waiting list.

Stricker's is open to the general public just three times during its season: The Fourth of July, community day (during the second weekend in August), and customer appreciation day in October. The latter was added this year.

The park boasts the only two wooden coasters within the borders of Hamilton County, the Tornado and the Teddy Bear (built from the blueprints of the original Teddy Bear at Coney Island amusement park). Stricker's also features 16 midway rides (such as the Kiddie Whip, Turtles, Carousel, Helicopters, Crazy Daisy, Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, Flying Scooters and Topsy Turvy), an 18-hole miniature golf course, game arcade with skee-ball, five horseshoe pits and other recreational opportunities. The air-conditioned hall seats 650, while the outdoor picnic pavilion can handle another 768 diners.

Billed as a park for families and children, Stricker's Grove was founded in Mt. Healthy by Ziegler's grandfather, Henry Stricker, in 1924. At first it was used primarily by Stricker's fellow employees at Procter & Gamble, who wanted a place to picnic in what was then the countryside.

The planting of three apple orchards on the property led to the name Stricker's Grove. A dance hall was added a few years later, and then a pony ride. Mechanical rides arrived in 1954. In 1969 Ralph Stricker, Debbie's father, took over the entire operation. He had been running the park with his two brothers since 1960, when their father Henry passed away. Ralph subsequently moved the park to its current Ross location in time for the 1972 season, in part to escape the increasing urbanization of the Mt. Healthy area.

Ralph passed away in January, but left an impressive legacy. He built the park's two roller-coasters, the only private individual to accomplish such a feat, according to the national theme park trade association. He also built a generator so the park could produce its own power. The safety standards he set continue to be among the highest in the industry.

Though his widow Nancy still owns Stricker's Grove, a group that includes Mrs. Ziegler leases and runs the park. "We are leasing it from her with an option to buy, which we can exercise next year since (my father died)," Ziegler explains. Everyone still has a "day job," and look at the park as a long-term investment. Zeigler works for the Post Office, as does her husband Ken, who runs the park's games.

Electricians Jan Praechter and Tim Werling help take care of the rides. "He knows more about the rides than anybody," Zeigler says of the Werling. Tom Kolb, a carpenter, is the other partner. The seasonal employees are mostly students and retirees.

"We put all the money back into the park," Ziegler explains. "Usually by the time May rolls around, and we open the park, we're broke, but almost all amusement parks are like that."

Look for some major changes with the addition of two new rides this season. "We bought a round-up from Americana," says Praechter. "We're redoing it, putting it up. And we bought an apple ride from down in Cave City, Kentucky (and we're) putting that up."
All proving that Stricker's Grove isn't content to just coast along on its past.

Stricker's Grove is a hidden gem among the Tristate's amusement parks, but with new rides and shows, all three are worth a visit this summer:

KINGS ISLAND: The giant theme park is under new ownership: Cedarfair Ltd., the parent company of Cedar Point in Sandusky, recently purchased Kings Island from Paramount Parks. Major changes are afoot. Firehawk, the only flying roller-coaster in the state, is the new ride for the 2007 season. Riders ride four across in suspended, ski-lift-style seats with over-the-shoulder restraints. At the top of the ride, the track spins them 180 degrees so that they are "flying" head-first, on their stomachs, through the two-and-a-half-minute spin.
The new owners also promise new live shows in the International Showplace outdoor amphitheater and the Nickelodeon Theatre, neither of which were used for live shows in recent seasons. The shows will include "Dora's Singalong Adventure," "Hot Island Rhythms," "Endless Summer on Ice," "Twisting to the '60s," and more.

Kings Island, 6300 Kings Island Dr., Mason. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, from May 23 on (open weekends earlier in May). $44.99, $29.99 for seniors and children 3-6. 513/754-5700 or

CONEY ISLAND: The amusement park features a new ride, the 50-foot freefall Scream Machine, and a new live entertainment schedule by Madcap Puppet Theatre (four shows nightly on Saturdays and Sundays). The facility offers the feel of a vintage amusement park, with pedal boat rides on Lake Como, a Ferris wheel, mini-golf, "Kids Town," Sunlite Pool"”a massive wading pool with huge water slides"”and traditional carnival rides such as the spinning Tempest whirling dervish, bumper cars, dodge-ems, carousel and the Python coaster.

Coney Island, 6201 Kellogg Ave., Anderson Township. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., from May 26 through Sept. 9. $19.50 for pool/ride pass, $10.95 pool only, $9.95 rides only (after 4 p.m., $9.95 combo, $6.95 pool or rides). 513/232-8230,