Idaho’s Amusement Park King

Gary Norton talks about his off-the-beaten-path Silverwood Theme Park north of Coeur d'Alene.

Gary Norton of Silverwood Theme Park

Who would ever build an amusement park in remote northern Idaho? Gary Norton.

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Building a 223-acre expanse of waterslides and roller coasters in the Idaho Panhandle is like carving a baseball stadium out of an Iowa cornfield: It takes faith to believe that people will actually come. In the last 20 years, Gary Norton’s faith in his Silverwood Theme Park has been justified again and again. Fifteen miles north of Coeur d’Alene but hundreds of miles from a major city, the family-owned-and-operated park boasts 41 rides and attracts 500,000 visitors a year from all over the Northwest. Visit www.silverwoodthemepark.com.

Q Why build a theme park in such a remote location?
A That wasn’t the original plan. I bought an airstrip here for an airplane museum. It was going to lose a fortune, so I added more attractions. I bought a 1915 steam engine and laid down three miles of tracks in the woods. Then came the roller coasters. And I haven’t stopped building.

Q Did you worry that people might not drive out of their way for your park?
A I didn’t really think about it. If I had, I never would have tried.

Q What are your favorite rides?
A I designed and built the water ride Thunder Mountain myself. You get soaked. Some of the waves come up over your shoulders. The Tremors roller coaster plunges underground four times and pops up through the floor of the gift shop. It’s a maximum intensity ride.

Q Any plans for the future?
A We’re going to keep getting bigger. The water park doubled in size this year. And I’m planning a haunted house.

Q What makes Silverwood different?
A There’s a personal touch. I don’t have to answer to a board of directors. I just get to walk around and watch people having a good time.

Photography by Dean Davis

This article was first published in July 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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