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Happily ever after is on the farm


After spending years in limbo, Mother Goose, Papa Bear and Cinderella's mice finally got their happy ending yesterday along with several other fairy-tale figures.

Left over from the long-closed Enchanted Forest theme park, the wooden and fiberglass characters had languished behind a chain-link fence in Ellicott City, beaten by the weather and vandals.

This week, the company that owns the land announced it would donate the park's fairy-tale figures so they could entertain children at a nearby farm.

But first they had to get there. And Mother Goose was one heavy bird.

Yesterday's move required a trailer, a dozen strong volunteers and a few large trucks. The volunteer movers laughed and grunted as they pushed and heaved and raised the bird onto a flatbed trailer.

"We were mostly worried about her head falling off," said Mary Catherine Cochran, one of the volunteers and president of Preservation Howard County.

The 11-foot-high statue had a laceration on its neck, as though a vandal had tried to cut the head off. But Mother Goose proved to be a sturdy bird, surviving the four-mile trip to Clark's Elioak Farm, which has a petting farm, hayrides and other children's activities.

As the volunteers shifted Mother Goose onto the muddy farmland, they put to rest a decade-long debate in Howard County.

For years after its closure in the 1990s, the park's fans had fought to reopen it. One early group, Friends of Enchanted Forest, produced market studies, lobbied different owners as the land changed hands and pleaded its case at community meetings.

They also spread the news, hoping to attract a financial Prince Charming to invest and save the park.

But he never showed up.

As the Friends of Enchanted Forest lost steam, another group, the Enchanted Forest Preservation Society, took the park's cause online and spoke out at Howard County meetings to revitalize U.S. 40.

'It's sad'

Yesterday, members of both groups spoke sadly about their beloved park as movers carted it off piece by piece.

"It's gone, and it's sad," said Ann Ryder, a longtime supporter. "We all want to see the pieces saved. But we never gave up on reopening the park. We were just going to have another meeting this spring to start trying again."

Others recalled their favorite memories from past visits. "It impacted you when you were little," said Monica McNew-Metzger, a member of the park preservation society. "You read the nursery rhymes, and then you'd go see them. It all just came to life."

For more than three decades, the Enchanted Forest entertained families. Soon after it opened in 1955, the 52-acre park became a hit, welcoming 300,000 visitors a year at its peak.

The park's map read like a who's who of nursery rhyme and fairy-tale characters: Humpty Dumpty, Jack complete with beanstalk, the old lady who lived in a shoe and the runaway dish (along with its accomplice, the spoon).

It closed in 1988, and new owners built a shopping center next to it, keeping a castle with a green dragon and Old King Cole at the shopping center's entrance for decoration. The park reopened for a brief season in 1994, but then closed for good. The remaining attractions were fenced off behind the shopping center.

Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y., acquired the land when it bought another realty company last year. The company donated Cinderella's pumpkin carriage to a charity auction last summer. The pumpkin ended up at Clark's Elioak Farm, but not before spending a brief time on eBay.

"The eBay part really opened our eyes," said Kevin Allen, Kimco's director of retail and office properties. "We realized these artifacts could go anywhere, good or bad. And we wanted to keep these artifacts in Howard County for the residents and children."

After talking it over with Martha Clark, who owns Clark's Elioak Farm, Kimco decided to donate almost everything to the farm. Old King Cole and the towering gray castle will remain, but Clark is free to take anything else she can transport back to her farm on Route 108.

Some pieces in danger

Some of the larger structures, however, might not make it.

It turns out, for example, that the old lady from the nursery rhyme lived in a shoe made of solid concrete.

"We're not saying no to anything yet, but we don't have the money or equipment for some of this stuff," Clark explained.

Also in danger is the crooked house, the gingerbread house and the Three Bears' home. Clark said she will try to raise funds and find volunteers to try to salvage the larger structures and to repair figures damaged by weather and vandals.

But yesterday on her farm, Clark was too tired to think about all that, after a long day's work hauling Papa Bear, Mother Goose and funky-colored toadstools.

And still awaiting her and her volunteers was the last pair of Cinderella's six 10-foot-long mice sitting on the trailer flatbed.

"Watch the nose, watch the nose," yelled one of the movers as they shifted the conjoined mice to the edge of the flatbed.

After 20 minutes of careful pushing and heavy lifting, the mice landed with a loud thud on the ground.

"Well," Clark said with a sigh, "Little Boy Blue's still waiting for us back at the park."

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