Seems like only yesterday that regional amusement parks were gearing up for a solid 2003 season. Gas prices were falling. The economy hadn't bounced back to the point where a European vacation was in order, but a trek to the local thrill park seemed doable. The rides were revving up. Funnel cakes and Dippin' Dots prepared to be munched. The turnstiles beckoned.

Then the rains came. Then the patrons didn't. Friday's news that Six Flags (NYSE:PKS) suffered a 4% decline in attendance in June was particularly harsh. After an 8% slide in park traffic last year, a year-over-year gain should have been a layup. Instead, the operator of 39 amusement parks worldwide must come to terms with fading cash flow and a coaster-high mountain of debt -- oh yeah, and a 20% haircut.

Attendance for regional rival Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) isn't holding up any better (though the stock has). After posting healthy traffic gains last year, the company behind thrill havens like Cedar Point in Ohio and Knott's Berry Farm in California had a rough start to the new season when June attendance fell by 7%.

Big players with park interests like Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) and Viacom (NYSE:VIA) report this week, but park operations make up but a thin slice of their revenue pies. Disney (NYSE:DIS), on the other hand, will have quite a bit more riding on turnstile clicks when it reports its fiscal third quarter next week.

As they sometimes do in the summer, rainbows may follow these heavy rains. As bad as things were for Six Flags, the company has seen a modest trend reversal. Over the past four weeks, park attendance was up a scant yet welcome 1%. And, remember, eligible families will be receiving child-tax credit checks in the coming weeks. Some, undoubtedly, have those $400 checks (per child) earmarked, but others surely will check out our Travel Center to book late-summer treks to area amusement parks.

So hope springs eternal, even when it's stuck on a slow chain lift. After all, Six Flags owes its name to six distinctive territorial flags, but the white flag of surrender is most certainly not among them.

Have you made it out to your nearby amusement park this summer? Is a trip in the works or do you just hate them? All this and more -- in the Rollercoaster Loving Fools discussion board. Only on