Defunct park's admirers seek a storybook ending

Farm owner, volunteers work to restore, replace and relocate scenes of 50-year-old Enchanted Forest

March 19, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For more than three decades people of all ages enjoyed the Enchanted Forest storybook theme park in Ellicott City.

Since the park opened in 1955, legions of children frolicked in Cinderella's Castle, in the Gingerbread House and around Jack climbing the Beanstalk.

After the park closed in 1986, Kim-Co Realty Co. purchased land surrounding the park, and the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center was built. Old King Cole standing atop the shopping center sign and the castle gate were the only remnants of the park the public can still see. Although the new owners didn't destroy the park, they closed it up and put "No Trespassing" signs on the fence.

The storybook park sat decaying for years, until Martha Clark of Ellicott City resolved to change that.

Clark's quest began in August 2004, after she learned that Debbie Burchardt, who has an office in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, asked the property owners for a donation from the park for a charity auction, and received Cinderella's pumpkin coach.

After the coach was sold, Clark, an owner of Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, saw an article about it in the local newspaper and decided to contact the buyers.

She approached them and asked them if they would like to put their coach someplace where it would be available to the public. After a couple of months of discussions, the pumpkin joined the goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, alpacas, horses and bunnies at Clark's sprawling 540-acre farm. "Everyone thought it was a great place for the coach to be," she said.

Clark was aware that interested groups had tried to reopen The Enchanted Forest and she believed a lack of parking space would prevent the storybook park from ever reopening.

"More than 500,000 people visited the Enchanted Forest each year," said Clark. "There's no way they could accommodate the parking for that many people."

So Clark went to see Kim-Co representative Kevin Allen and asked if he would be willing to sell or donate some of the other pieces to her. Allen put feelers out to see whether people thought the farm was a good place to display the pieces, Clark said.

"He gave me the pieces," said Clark. "But I was responsible for moving them."

When word got out about what Clark was doing, she started receiving phone calls. One came from Marty Levine, president of Ex-Cel Tree Experts who told Clark he wanted to help her move some of the items.

"During this time, their were two groups of people, those who came and saw the pieces and said they couldn't move any of them, and those who did whatever they could to move them," said Clark.

"Marty came in and said, `I can move the schoolhouse, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Rainbow Bridge and the sombrero. And he did."

It seemed like the right thing to do, said Levine. "I belong to a lot of organizations and I don't really actively do anything with any of them, and I thought I needed to do more," he said. The diversity of the job really appealed to him.

"It's neat in my line of work to get to do something so different," said Levine. "And, yet, be something that makes so many people happy."

Clark still remembers the day a caravan of four trucks arrived at the farm. "It was the coolest thing," she said.

From that point on, movers and even corporations came to help Clark in her endeavor. For example, Hampton, which operates Hampton Inns, donated $32,000 through its national initiative, "Explore the Highway with Hampton, Save-A-Landmark."

Through this program, historical roadside attractions are identified and assistance is given to help restore them. Hampton sent about 40 employees from Maryland, Washington and Virginia to the farm to work on the pieces, Clark said.

She continued to get volunteers to help move such pieces as the Three Little Pigs' house, the shoe from The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe nursery rhyme, the crooked house and an Easter egg-shaped house.

To date, Clark said, she has spent about $50,000 of her own money on the project.

The last piece to be moved, the Three Bears' house, was to be transferred this month. Although Cinderella's Castle and the Gingerbread House remain at the former park, no one has come forward to try to help with them. For now, Clark intends to work with the pieces she has at the farm.

And, this is a bigger battle than the moves, she said.

Everyone from her paid employees at the farm to community volunteers are helping to repair and restore the pieces to the way they were when they were displayed at The Enchanted Forest.

Bruce Barrett of Baltimore signed on to help because when he first saw the former storybook site in 2002, he said, it changed his life. He was making a delivery in the Ellicott City area on U.S. 40 and couldn't help noticing the Old King Cole statue. He asked his co-worker if they could stop and take a break so he could see what was behind the fence.

"I walked up to the fence and peeked in at the structures, and my life was changed forever," said Barrett. "My jaw hit the ground with a thud."

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