Can Mother Goose still fly?


The brutally competitive world of children's entertainment is no fairy tale. Just ask the owners of the Enchanted Forest, the 40-year-old Ellicott City amusement park that failed to reopen Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of its summer season.

In an era when amusement parks tout "thrill-packed joy rides," it isn't easy to stay ahead of the curve. Establishments such as Chuck E. Cheese and Discovery Zone have also jumped into the amusement market to provide an array of high-energy rides and games.

By contrast, the Enchanted Forest is a subdued reminder of a romanticized time when children were easier to entertain -- or so it seemed.

Virtual reality rides and computer video games? Heck, 1950s kids got a thrill out of black and white TV! It shouldn't be a surprise then that finding a niche for a theme park built around stationary Mother Goose characters hasn't been easy.

Complicating the problem is that the owners of the park -- Towson-based JHP Development Inc. -- agreed to close the facility's rides several years ago.

The idea then was that crowds would be drawn by the Family Funjungle, an indoor children's recreation center that was opened at the entrance to the Enchanted Forest. The Funjungle withered, however, leaving the park with only the passive attractions of larger-than-life Sleeping Beauty, Little Boy Blue and the like.

The owners insist that the Enchanted Forest will reopen once a management company is brought in to run it. In fact, there seems to be some lingering demand for the low-key ambiance the park provided, particularly among families with very young children. (Once kids hit pre-teenhood, forget fairy tales, unless they're named Mortal Kombat.) The Howard County Tourism Council says it gets about 20 calls a week from families wondering whether the park will reopen.

Unless the owners are prepared to ratchet up the attractions, the best the Enchanted Forest can offer is nostalgia, which is not such a bad thing. In fact, a perfect complement might be a children's book store, capitalizing on the notion that reading remains an invaluable skill. What better way to introduce a child to the magic of books than to experience it beneath the wings of Mother Goose.

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