Friends of Enchanted Forest unveils plan to revive children's park

Theme would be fantasy, with some updating

April 23, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Members of Friends of the Enchanted Forest unveiled last night their plan to revive the once-popular Ellicott City amusement park for children 10 and under.

They say they want to keep the storybook theme of the original park -- the Alice-in-Wonderland jump down the rabbit hole, the Robinson Crusoe raft ride -- but update the park to include such modern-day attractions as bumper cars, swirling giant teacups and a miniature Ferris wheel.

"I'm tired of video games, tired of dropping quarters at Chuckie Cheese," said Rick Lepski, chairman of the Friends of the Enchanted Forest, a grass-roots group of citizens working to save the park. "I think we need to offer our children more. There's nothing like the Enchanted Forest."

About 40 people attended the meeting at the Cafe Bagel in Ellicott City, most -- but not all -- supportive of the proposals. Some fans of the old park worry that the Friends' plans are too ambitious and might destroy the homey, safe atmosphere that made the park on U.S. 40 unique.

And some neighbors who live behind Enchanted Forest on Green Forest Court and Woodstream Lane don't want the noise and lights at night that rebuilding the park might bring.

"I am concerned that you have taken the family-ness away from it and made it just like anything else," said Dianne Warren, a staff member at Clarlen Nursery Inc. in Ellicott City, after hearing the Friends' plans for the revived park.

When she took preschoolers to Enchanted Forest, she said, it was "always a special trip."

Richard Nietubicz, who lives in a house overlooking Enchanted Forest, said he is concerned about noise, lights and smells that would come from the amusement park. But, he said if it were kept small, he wouldn't object.

"I'm not trying to kill this project," he said. "If they can implement what they are saying it's very possible we could live with it."

The original park, which opened in 1954, provided dozens of fairy-tale scenes in a wooded setting for the amusement of preschool and elementary school children until it closed in 1989. Visitors could ride a mouse to Cinderella's Castle and take a break from it all in the Mother Goose picnic area.

The movement to revive the park started about three months ago, when Ellicott City activist Barbara Sieg wrote a letter in a local newspaper urging those who had visited the park to help.

The letter inspired a storm of support and led to the formation of the Friends of Enchanted Forest in February.

Scott H. Waters of Columbia, a former consultant for Adventure World and a member of the grass-roots Friends group, presented the plans for the amusement park with a slide show and a talk. He said it would be great not only for children, but for the community because it would create jobs and bring tourism to Howard County.

Waters said there is probably room for 10 or 12 rides -- a mini-coaster, a carousel, a small train -- and that the park could also provide food concessions and entertainment such as acoustic concerts and puppet shows. But he said it can still be simple.

"In no way do you want this to be a Six Flags," he said. "It should be a storybook, story land park geared for young children."

Lepski said the revived park could attract 100,000 to 125,000 visitors a year, and that each would be expected to spend about $10 on admission, food and rides. He said it would cost about $1 million to revive the park and it would be a nonprofit operation.

The group hopes to have the park open in April 2001, Lepski said.

He said the Friends have not negotiated with the owner of the property, Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust of Lutherville. First, he said, the group wants to put together a site plan and proposal by August.

"We're trying to make this a joint effort," he said.

Brooke Webster, vice president of management for MART, said the company is not ready to make a decision about the project.

"We just want to hear what everyone has to say and get the information, and then review everything and see where we go," she said.

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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