Enchanted Forest theme park reopens

May 20, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Dorothy Hall was 5 the last time she visited the Enchanted Forest theme park in Ellicott City.

Youngsters would enter the park through a white castle with a drawbridge, hop aboard a swan for a magical ride and pose for pictures with Little Bo Peep.

Twenty-four years later, the fairy-tale theme park on U.S. 40 continues to enchant the Ellicott City woman.

"It's still fun," she said as she watched her 2 1/2 -year-old son, Tyler, ring a bell atop the Little Red Schoolhouse.

After a seven-year hiatus, the 6-acre park reopened last week. Tomorrow is the official grand opening, which will be held in conjunction with the second anniversary of the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center that shares the 32-acre property with the park.

"The park has the same sort of character and charm that people remember from their visits over the decades," said Jeffrey S. Pechter, who owns the park with his father, Jack H. Pechter, a Towson developer.

In 1988, the Pechters bought the family-owned park from Howard E. Harrison III, whose father opened it in 1954 on a 20-acre dairy farm. The park fell into disrepair and was closed in 1986.

During the past two years, the Pechters have spent about $300,000 restoring and repainting many of the park's attractions. They have also gotten rid of some.

When longtime park visitors return, they will notice that all rides introduced during the 1960s and 1970s have been eliminated, including the Teacup Ride, which traveled through the world of Alice in Wonderland, and the Safari Ride.

Mr. Pechter said zoning restrictions and the efforts needed to meet current safety standards made it difficult to restore the six rides.

Rides converted

Some of the rides have been converted to other uses. The Mother Goose Ride and the Pumpkin Coach, for example, have been dismantled and made into Mother Goose's Picnic and Play Area. Mother Goose has been transformed into a slide, and the white mice that used to pull the Pumpkin Coach are now picnic benches.

Cinderella's Castle and Robin Hood's Barn, both targets of arson in the past, are also missing. In 1992, a suspicious fire caused $40,000 damage to Cinderella's Castle, destroying the roof and damaging the first floor of the three-story building.

In 1990, two juveniles were charged with setting fire to Robin Hood's Barn, which used to house the park's restrooms. The barn was destroyed.

Now park visitors use the restrooms in the Fun Jungle, an indoor family entertainment center owned by the Pechters, adjacent to the Enchanted Forest.

Although Robin Hood's Barn will not be replaced, Cinderella's Castle could reopen next year, along with the original entrance castle on U.S. 40.

New attractions include recorded narrations by the Three Bears and other characters and a fitness trail featuring a balance beam, climbing ropes and monkey bars.

Mr. Pechter said he wants to return the park to its original appearance. "We're endeavoring to reintroduce the park with a 1950s feeling," he said.

The changes drew mixed reactions from park visitors.

"It's not the way I remembered it," said Ms. Hall, 29. "There was a lot more to it."

But Margaret Miller, 30, who lives in Pennsylvania but grew up in Bethesda, said she recognized the park of her youth. "I remember the Crooked House. That was neat because you knew it wasn't right."

'Right up their alley'

The theme park remains one of the few attractions designed for children 6 and younger.

"This is right up their alley," said Ms. Miller who visited the park with her two daughters and childhood friend Linda French.

Ms. Miller's elder daughter, 2-year-old Kimberly, ran to greet a row of gingerbread men painted chocolate and cotton-candy pink. Exactly their height, the little girl ran her hands over the miniature figures, squealing with delight.

Ms. Miller said Kimberly loved the park. "She can touch the [Three Little] Pigs, and the slides are all their size," Ms. Miller said.

Generations of families who return each year are the key to the park's success, Mr. Pechter said.

"The real attraction for people is being able to bring their children to something they experienced as a kid," said Mr. Pechter, who visited the park himself as a child.

Admission is $2.95 per child and free for adults with a child. Th park is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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