Karen Simes remembers taking her grandson to Silverwood Theme Park for the first time, on a group outing with other grandparents and their grandchildren. Just 6 at the time, he was a little shy—but before long, the little boy came out of his shell.
“He was willing to go on rides and have adventures,” Simes said, on a recent sunny afternoon as she walked toward McEuen Park in downtown Coeur d’Alene. “It’s a lovely place to go.”
Silverwood opened for its 30th season last weekend. For three decades, the theme park has been a place where families create lifelong memories and share special moments.
The park began as a passion project for Gary Norton. When he took ownership of Henley Aerodome—a private airport just north of Coeur d’Alene—in the early 1980s, Norton turned one of the hangars into an air museum. He traveled the country in search of new additions to his collection.
At an auction in Reno, Nevada, he found the train that would change his life forever—a Porter steam locomotive, built in 1915. After winning a bidding war with a rep from Disneyland, Norton took his new train home and laid down the tracks.
But the train set would not be complete without a little town to go with it, so Norton built that, too. He hired local craftsmen and paid careful attention to the smallest details of this new destination, which he named Silverwood.
The rest is history.
Since 1988, Silverwood has grown from train and pony rides to more than 220 acres of rides and attractions.
Steve Wilson, president and CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce said Silverwood was at the forefront of the region’s transformation from a small Northwest resort town to a true national destination.
Wilson worked in the tourism industry when Silverwood was just getting started. At the time, he said, Coeur d’Alene didn’t have much to offer the national market, not with a major destination like Sun Valley in the same state. Silverwood helped to change that.
Destinations like Silverwood bring an “intangible value” to the community, Wilson said. People come from all over to visit the theme park and fall in love with the surrounding area.
“Coeur d’Alene has a pretty significant positive brand in the Northwest, and Silverwood has contributed to that,” Wilson said.
Silverwood has an almost magical quality today, like a self-contained world, with everything from restaurants to retail shops to a movie theater.
Classic attractions like Corkscrew and Thunder Canyon were introduced in the early ‘90s, but it was the wooden roller coasters that cemented Silverwood’s place as a truly impressive theme park.
Timber Terror was added to the park in 1996. Attendance spiked, and another wooden roller coaster was added in 1999: Tremors. The ride, which plunges underground, was inspired by the monster movie of the same name.
Linda Mortensen, of Spirit Lake, said she’s been getting a season pass every year for a decade. She’s been on every ride. Aftershock is her favorite by far, though she also likes to take unsuspecting people to Thunder Canyon, for a trip down Silverwood’s very own whitewater river.
Mortensen often visits Silverwood alone, enjoying the atmosphere and hopping on a few rides. But her best memories are of the trips when her grandchildren were with her.
“My family is up in Alaska, so when they come down, it’s a lot of fun,” she said.