Big pumpkin enchants again

Attraction: Cinderella's coach from the defunct Enchanted Forest theme park is wowing visitors at an Ellicott City petting farm.

September 05, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City launched its fall season yesterday with hayrides, animals and an unusual new attraction: an SUV-sized, bright-orange fiberglass pumpkin outfitted with seats and wheels.

It was the first time in a decade children were able to climb inside Cinderella's pumpkin coach, which used to carry kids through the now-defunct Enchanted Forest theme park just a few miles from the farm. Back then, the coach was pulled by a small truck that was disguised by cutouts of huge white mice.

After years of neglect, the pumpkin has found a new home. It no longer travels but sits surrounded by a green picket fence and shaded by a roof jutting off the entrance building at the family-oriented petting farm.

Young visitors seemed wowed by the giant carriage, while many of their parents expressed their childhood memories of the park.

"Enchanted Forest was so much fun, oh my goodness," said Karen Newell of Baldwin. "I remember when it closed, how disappointed I was I wouldn't get to take my kids to see it."

She watched her son, Aidan, 5, and her daughter, Kieran, 3, climb inside and poke their heads out the windows, and told them that she had ridden in the coach when she was younger.

"Somebody bought it and brought it here," she said. "Isn't it cool?"

In fact, the coach had a somewhat winding journey to the farm.

The Enchanted Forest entertained families for more than three decades between its opening in 1955 and its closing in 1988. At its peak, the second-oldest theme park in the country - a few months younger than Disneyland - drew 300,000 visitors each year to see storybook-themed rides and attractions on 52 acres.

In the 1980s, new owners built a shopping center on most of the property along Route 40, keeping a castle with a green dragon and Old King Cole for decoration. The theme park reopened for one season in 1994, then closed for good, and the remaining attractions were fenced off behind the stores.

The pumpkin ended up outside the main fence, deteriorating behind a Petco store.

Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y., took over the property last year and, in May, donated the pumpkin to charity efforts headed by staff from the Coldwell Banker office at the shopping center. Volunteers spent a month repairing, painting and restoring the pumpkin and then trucked it to the group's annual charity auction at the Howard County Fairgrounds.

Sold for $2,300

Two Essex businessmen bought the coach for $2,300, saying they wanted to make sure it ended up where people could see it. After deliberating over the summer - and putting the coach on the eBay online auction site for a week - they reached an agreement with Martha Clark, who runs the petting farm. Clark declined to discuss the financial details.

She said the farm, with its focus on family fun and its location in Ellicott City, is a perfect place to make the pumpkin accessible to the public again.

"All we have gotten is positive feedback," she said.

Kevin Allen, Kimco's director of retail and office properties, said his company has not made any decisions about what to do with the attractions that remain amid weeds and crumbling asphalt paths behind the shopping center. They include a towering gray castle, a two-story purple shoe, a smiling blue whale and the Three Bears' house.

A group called the Enchanted Forest Preservation Society had been lobbying for the park to reopen, speaking out, for example, at meetings of the county's task force on revitalizing Route 40.

Others think it would be more logical to move the remaining pieces to a new location.

"It is always ideal to keep a historic site together in its original location," said Mary Catherine Cochran, a spokeswoman with Preservation Howard County, in an e-mail. "However, the original location for the Enchanted Forest appears to have several insurmountable obstacles."

Cochran said she believes a lack of parking, concerns over a local flood plain, liability-insurance costs and lack of an economically viable interest to run the park are standing in the way of reopening the site. Her group put the park on its list of the 10 most-endangered historic places and, she said, supports moving the surviving structures to a safe location.

Clark said she and Kimco's Allen have discussed the possibility of taking more Enchanted Forest items to the farm to be fixed up and displayed, but they have not reached an agreement.

Big fun

For now, the pumpkin seems to be big entertainment for small children.

Jacob Delgado, 2, of Ellicott City went back three times to sit on the wooden seats and look out the windows.

As his mother, Jamie, coaxed him away, he ran back and gave the pumpkin a kiss.

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