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Wednesday, 15 May 2013 13:16

Beloved amusement park brought back to life one piece at a time

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fr ghosttownGhost Town in the Sky amusement park is scheduled to kick off its 2013 season Memorial Day weekend, thanks to the grit, passionate and determination of its new owner and longtime champion Alaska Pressley, who has slogged ahead with her dream despite hoops and hurdles.

 

Pressley purchased the troubled mountaintop amusement park in Maggie Valley out of foreclosure last year. Ghost Town, which was popular in the heyday of cowboys like John Wayne, fell out of favor with tourists in the 1990s.

After years of prolonged decline from its peak years, it eventually closed in the early 2000s. It was bought twice, and twice reopened by investors hoping to revive it, but twice it failed. That is when Pressley, a longtime Ghost Town lover and Maggie Valley champion, decided to resurrect it for the enjoyment of tourists and locals alike.

“The joy is going to be the feel that I have touched a lot of lives and made them better,” Pressley said.

Where past efforts failed, Pressley not only has an undying passion to bring Ghost Town back but also has the financial resources to sink into it. Pressley has vast financial resources thanks to numerous business and real estate ventures in Maggie Valley over the decades.

She is putting all her own money into the mountain and has vowed not to take out any debt — which seemed to be the downfall of previous owners.

Pressley bought Ghost Town for $2 million. Since then, she said she has invested a good $1.5 million or more in repairs to the park and expects to spend at the very least another $1.5 million. 

“I am trying to be frugal,” she said.

Ghost Town had a soft opening last summer with a limited slate of attractions. Visitors could take a chairlift up the mountain and visit a museum with Ghost Town memorabilia for a discounted ticket price. But the signature mock-up Wild West town, home to staged gunfights and cancan saloon dancers, needed too much work to get open last year. None of the rides were open. 

“I didn’t have that much to offer,” Pressley said.

This year, however, Ghost Town visitors will be have more to entice them. There will be a few kiddy rides and games, shows at the Wild West town, chairlift rides and food on two of the park’s three levels. Adult tickets will cost $24.50, and children pay $14.95, with those under five getting in free.

Pressley said she didn’t want to out price her customer base.

“It still needed to be cheap,” she said. “I would rather have volume than too high of prices.”

Pressley bit off a monumental task when she bought Ghost Town. The list of repairs, let alone general sprucing up, was daunting due to years of neglect and the harsh high-elevation elements.

Although Pressley has made strides, there is still more work to do before Memorial Day weekend. Water needs to be hooked up. The rides and chairlift need to be inspected by the state. Electricians need to complete rewiring the park. But Pressley said everything would be done by the time the first visitors are standing in the amusement park’s ticket line.

“It has been a challenge, but we are going to make it,” Pressley said.

Pressley is working with Maggie Valley’s water district to get water up to the park. When she bought Ghost Town last year, Pressley purchased a $20,000 water pump to push municipal water up the mountain. But the town water district employees told her she might have better luck digging wells to supply water to the park.

However in the end, Pressley will hook to town water after all. She estimated that the park would have water access this week.

As for the rides and chairlift, the North Carolina Department of Labor must inspect them every year before the park opens. Amusement parks owners must submit a request for inspection with the department 10 working days prior to allow time for inspectors to schedule them. As of Tuesday afternoon — nine working days before the park’s scheduled opening — Pressley had not submitted any requests.

As for the rewiring, Pressley said electricians should finish working by the end of this week.

 

‘A marked transformation’

Just a year ago, the Wild West Town, where actors once recreated a gunfight, running around the street and rolling off roofs, was dilapidated. During periods of being shut down, the mock town fell victim to harsh mountaintop weathering and vandals who broke windows and doors and sprayed fire extinguishers in the buildings. Grass and weeds had overtaken the mountaintop, adding to its bedraggled look. 

Things had “kind of went to pot,” Pressley said.

Last week, electricians were rewiring the buildings, such as the saloon and general store, in the Wild West Town. The buildings were repainted; new windows were installed; the mock-up storefronts were stocked with period pieces; and the gunfighters have been practicing their routines in preparation for Memorial Day weekend.

The grounds have also been mowed and weeded, and new flowers  planted.

“It’s a big difference, isn’t it?” Pressley said.

Pastor Bobby Rogers, who is advising Pressley, agreed that the mountain looked much improved compared to last year.

“It’s already a marked transformation,” Rogers said.

Dee and Steve Hurley, owners of Hurley’s Creekside Dining and Rhum Bar in Maggie, are leasing three of Ghost Town’s restaurant spaces — The Stagecoach, The Wagon Wheel and a building called The Emporium — all of which will open the same day as the park. They will hire at least 12 employees to work in the three restaurants.

The Hurleys are supporters of Pressley and were looking to branch out beyond their current venture.

“It’s always good to branch out and grow,” said Dee Hurley. “We like the challenge of it, too.”

The Emporium will be a sit-down restaurant with a menu similar to the current Hurley’s restaurant. It will be open all day, along with The Stagecoach and The Wagon Wheel, but will stay open later on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The Stagecoach will offer hamburgers, hotdogs, fries and a variety of sandwiches. The Wagon Wheels’ menu includes pizza and sub sandwiches.

 

Incorporating Christ

Plans are underway for the top level of Ghost Town, which is tentatively called Resurrection Mountain — a completely new concept and personal passion for Pressley. The section of the park will focus on Christian teachings and pay homage to the Bible. It has been part of Pressley’s vision since the beginning.

Pressley gathered around her kitchen table Friday with a group of five men who are helping her move forward with the renovations of Ghost Town and creation of Resurrection Mountain, which is still in the design phase.

“It’s going to be awesome, and hopefully, it will be one of the busiest things in our area,” Pressley said.

However, once complete, the third level will include a giant cross on top of the mountain, an area marked as Jesus’ tomb and other features that draw on stories from the Bible, such as Noah’s Ark. Pressley already owns a kiddy boat ride that sways passengers back and forth that she plans to use as the child’s ark ride.

“Ms. Alaska has a vision. It is bringing the Bible to life,” said Pastor Bobby Rogers.

Rogers takes yearly trips to Israel and has headed Dellwood Baptist Church for seven years. He is lending Pressley his expertise as she works on the layout for Resurrection Mountain.

“We want to create a spiritual experience,” Rogers said. “A place where (people) can grow in their joy.”

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