THE FLICKER OF HOPE that tantalizes parents wanting to bequeath some of their warmest childhood memories grows dimmer with each year that the Enchanted Forest Theme Park in Ellicott City remains closed. A stern "No Trespassing" sign hangs on the white castle that for decades introduced a fantasy wonderland to young children. Sadly, the park will not reopen any time soon, or probably ever.
The park began in 1954 -- a year before Disneyland -- targeting children who consider 10-year-olds to be grown-ups. It was the antithesis of modern amusement parks that are the size of small nation-states and are loaded with heart-arresting rides. At nTC Enchanted Forest, children visited Cinderella's Castle, took the Teacup Ride for a gentle turn and frolicked in the Mother Goose picnic area.
In 1986, the park closed. It reopened in 1994 to anchor the new Enchanted Forest shopping center on U.S. 40 and Bethany Lane. There was hope for synergy between park attractions and the neighboring Family Funjungle indoor amusement center. But the Funjungle soon closed and the summertime park has not reopened since.
Parks such as Busch Gardens and Six Flags, and the public's expectations, have made it all but impossible for a place such as Enchanted Forest to exist. Bigger parks add rides and attractions often to ensure a "refresh rate" -- families returning year after year. Families find it easier to keep children of various ages entertained at Kings Dominion than at a place for children no older than seven or eight.
F. Patrick Hughes, president of the company that is buying the Enchanted Forest property, says his firm has not reached a decision on its future. But his comments offer little hope.
Losing the park, however, would not be the most terrible thing. It certainly is not a loss for young children, who never knew it. Other than investors who sought to revive the facility, parents who enjoyed happy childhood moments there would miss it most. Some of them probably hope something magical will happen to help stoke their childhood memories. But as time goes by, it becomes obvious that the Enchanted Forest is just like that Atari video game now collecting dust in the attic in an age of Nintendo 64 and Playstation.
Pub Date: 4/18/97