Enchanted land sprouts on farm

March 18, 2007|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Entering Clark's Elioak Farm, one immediately notices that this is not your typical children's petting zoo.

Instead, eye-popping colors and shapes that include a gigantic purple shoe, a huge orange pumpkin coach and a crooked house jump out at you. If the items seem vaguely familiar, you're right. They all came from the Enchanted Forest, a well-known storybook theme park in Ellicott City that closed in the late 1980s and later fell into disrepair.

Over the past three years, Martha Clark has been restoring items from the former theme park and transporting them to her 540-acre Ellicott City farm and petting zoo for the next generation of children to climb on, explore and enjoy.

When the farm opens for the 2007 season on March 31, newly completed attractions will include the Merry Miller's House, Humpty Dumpty and Little Toot. A new entrance will greet customers and will eventually offer a replicated facade of the white castle that still sits at the entrance of the former theme park. Late last year, the Old Woman's Shoe and the Three Bears' House were added to the collection.

Clark said the effort is not meant to replicate the park but to preserve as much as possible.

"My goal was never to become the Enchanted Forest. My goal from the very beginning has been as a preservation effort," said Clark. "I just hate to see those pieces sit at the Enchanted Forest deteriorating year after year."

In fact, the main attraction of the farm remains the petting zoo, said Clark. The zoo includes a variety of animals, including goats, sheep, donkeys, alpacas, horses, turkeys, ducks and rabbits. The farm also offers school tours, birthday parties, hay rides, a picnic area and country store.

But as the Enchanted Forest items add up, one can't help but be pulled in the direction of the storybook creations. A sampling of restored items available at the farm include Mother Goose, Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach, Papa Bear, bell-shaped flowers, the Little Red Schoolhouse, the Crooked House, the Easter Bunny's House, the beanstalk and giant, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Three Little Pigs' straw, stick and brick houses.

Future plans include restoring Willie the Whale. Clark said they also have items that are missing some parts (a Jack without a Jill, the spider but no Miss Muffet, and a dish with no spoon) that they hope to find or re-create.

The effort started in 2004, when real estate agent Debbie Burchardt, whose office is in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center next to the former theme park, asked Kimco Realty Corp., the owners of the center and parkland, for a donation to be auctioned off at a charity event. What she received was Cinderella's pumpkin coach.

Burchardt spent 60 days working on restoring the piece, which had sat neglected for more than 20 years. It was then auctioned off and eventually ended up at Clark's Elioak Farm.

"The Enchanted Forest is such a legend, it's nice to be a part of that," said Burchardt, who said she visited the park when it was open. "I never thought so many pieces would ever be moved. They were so huge and so deteriorated. It looked like it would never happen."

After the success of the pumpkin coach, Kimco offered Clark whatever she could salvage from the old park. But while the items were offered for free, the cost came in moving and restoring them.

Clark said after people found out she was willing to offer a home for the items - a farm that is open to the public during most of the year and is placed in permanent preservation - a steady stream of people offered to pitch in and donate their time, goods and services.

"It's been amazing," said Clark, who estimates she spent about $125,000 last year moving and repairing pieces. "It's really been a wonderful community effort."

Annapolis artist Monica McNew-Metzger was one of the people who decided to volunteer. She began painting Enchanted Forest scenes on round river rocks from the original park. They are either auctioned off or sold in the farm's country store to raise money. She also re-created the missing face and arm of Sleeping Beauty, is working on a mural at the farm that depicts the Enchanted Forest and is repainting the teapot.

"The Enchanted Forest was one of those places you could go to just once and remember it forever," said McNew-Metzger. "I've thoroughly enjoyed working on the different pieces. To me, it's like giving back to this place and to other children."

For Norman Cavey, offering help was a natural fit. Cavey worked at the Enchanted Forest every summer before he joined the Army. When he came back, he worked there for another seven years. Most of his family - including his mother, aunts and uncles - were involved in running the place for the 30 years it remained open.

"I remember dealing with the public the most. They used to get amazing crowds. Everyone was there enjoying themselves," said Cavey.

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