Farm rewrites happy ending for park pieces


Martha Clark had just finished digging a hole outside the store at her Ellicott City petting farm when 10 people came trudging out of the nearby woods carrying a giant, rust-covered metal candy cane on their shoulders.

The group made its way up the hill and carefully lowered the end of the cane into the hole. After several shovels full of dirt - along with a pause to scoop a wayward toad out of the way - another piece of the former Enchanted Forest amusement park had reached its new home.

Through the hard work of farm staff and more than 100 volunteers this year, Clark's Elioak Farm has become dotted with fairy tale items that had sat deteriorating behind a shopping center for more than a decade.

Tomorrow and Sunday, the farm will celebrate 50 years since the Enchanted Forest opened in Ellicott City, drawing at its peak 300,000 visitors to enjoy storybook-themed rides and attractions.

In addition to Enchanted Forest memorabilia, there will be farm activities, fairy tale characters including Cinderella and Snow White, food, music and family entertainment. There will also be a charity auction of stones from the park painted with Enchanted Forest scenes.

The Enchanted Forest once claimed to be among the oldest theme parks on the East Coast, opening a few months after Disneyland opened in California in 1955.

The park closed in 1988 after a significant part of the 52-acre site was turned into a shopping center. After it reopened for one season in 1994, the remaining attractions were left in a fenced-off area behind the stores.

Clark said she never intended to re-create the theme park, but to feature its remaining attractions in various spots on her farm.

A nearly 13-foot tall Mother Goose and an Easter egg the size of a van sit among the animal pens. Giant mice decorate the picnic area. A white gosling and a black duck large enough to hold several children on their backs sit under a canopy of trees.

"I think it kind of works to have them spread out, to have people come upon them in different places," Clark said.

"Every day, the kids are sliding down Mother Goose, sitting at the mouse picnic tables, sitting on Papa Bear's lap and getting their pictures taken," she said. "The parents are just so excited about showing these things from their past to the kids."

Volunteers have been a big part of the farm's preservation efforts. People have offered cranes and trucks to move the items to the farm, and others have spent days repairing, scraping, sanding and painting the pieces this summer.

The project got a boost this week from Hampton Hotels, which sent nearly 40 volunteers to the farm Tuesday and Wednesday as part of its Save-A-Landmark Program. The company is working to preserve historical roadside attractions in all 50 states.

Staff members from 15 area hotels - paid only with pizza and hayrides - arrived at the farm to add landscaping to the Crooked Man's house, paint the Little Red Schoolhouse and refurbish the candy cane, two teepees, an oversized teapot and cups and a dozen cement gingerbread men.

"Everyday is an adventure at the hotel, so this is on course," said Marci Bixler as she swept debris out of the brim of an 10-foot-wide sombrero.

Bixler, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Annapolis, said she was enjoying the hands-on work.

"You just can't be afraid to get a little sweaty and dirty," she said.

Thanks to a $30,000 donation from the hotel chain, a 19-foot-tall, 15-ton purple shoe - from the nursery rhyme about the old woman and her many children - has been waiting on a truck at the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center for the past week. It will journey to the farm when the movers can get cable and phone lines temporarily moved out of the way.

Clark acquired Cinderella's pumpkin coach last fall, after the shopping center's new owner, Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y., donated it to a charity auction.

Kimco reached an agreement this year with Clark allowing her to take as many other pieces as she can move.

"I've got to tell you, I'm pretty amazed that we've moved as many pieces as we've moved ... in the time that we've been working," Clark said.

She and other park supporters are still seeking funds - as much as $23,000 to move one of the larger houses - and donations of time and labor. Plans include moving the Three Little Pigs' house, the Rainbow Bridge and Willie the Whale.

In the meantime, people who once enjoyed the park's colorful characters and kid-friendly attractions are calling the situation a fairy tale ending.

"It just felt like that was never going to happen," said Debbie Burchardt, an Ellicott City real estate agent who led efforts to rebuild Cinderella's coach before it was auctioned. "It surprises me every day ... to see how far we've come with it."

Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County, said she hopes her group can take the park off its 10 most endangered historical sites list next year.

On Wednesday, she looked at two giant lollipops and a group of brightly colored, 2-foot mushrooms under a canopy of trees and said, "It really feels magical in here."

Clark's Elioak Farm will celebrate the Enchanted Forest's 50th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Admission is $4 for children, $3 for adults. Information: 410-730-4049 or www.clark

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