Ghost Town did not have its mandatory, yearly safety inspections on the kiddy rides or the chairlift completed in time for its hoped-for summer kick-off Memorial Day weekend. The reason? Ghost Town didn’t submit a request for the inspections in time.
The N.C. Department of Labor needs at least 10 days advance notice from amusement parks seeking ride inspections. Ghost Town and the state have different versions on when the inspection request was sent in.
Mike Matthews, general manager of Ghost Town, claimed that the park had submitted an inspection request about two weeks from last Friday. But according to a spokeswoman with the state Department of Labor, nothing was sent in until May 17 — only five business days before its scheduled grand opening event.
Visitors get to the mountaintop amusement park via a chairlift. Without the chairlift operating, there was no good way to get large numbers of people up to the park.
Buses have been used in the past to shuttle people up and down the mountain when the chairlift is undergoing repairs, and Ghost Town currently has two busses, which together can accommodate 45 people, to transport people up the mountain if the chairlift if down for some reason.
Unlike the large parking lot at the bottom of the mountain, there’s no parking on top large enough to accommodate the public should they drive up themselves.
Still, the amusement park held a grand opening Saturday event, complete with music, food, cancan dancers and crafts — just without the actual opening. Instead, everything was brought down to the street-level parking lot.
“It went really well,” Matthews said.
Although they did not perform, gunfighters were there to meet and greet attendees. Because the event was free, Matthews said it was hard to tell how many people showed.
“It’s was hard to say; it came in spurts,” he said, adding that 30 people paid to ride Ghost Town’s ziplines.
Now, a new official grand opening for the season has been set for June 1 if everything goes well with inspections.
Safety inspectors with the Department of Labor are scheduled to visit Ghost Town on May 30, when they will either deem the rides and chairlift safe or hand the amusement park operators a list of necessary changes.
If the rides and chairlift are not up to snuff, workers at Ghost Town will need to make the alterations and then schedule another inspection. The chairlift passed state inspection and was open last year; however, the kiddy rides were not. This Thursday will test whether those rides are ready for passengers.
Ghost Town, which was popular in the heyday of cowboys like John Wayne, fell into a prolonged period of declining visitation starting in the mid-1980s and persisting through the ‘90s. It eventually closed in the early 2000s. Since then, it was bought and reopened twice by investors trying to revive it. Twice, it failed.
That is when Pressley, a longtime Ghost Town lover and Maggie Valley champion, decided to resurrect it. She purchased the troubled mountaintop amusement park in Maggie Valley out of foreclosure last year and has since spent more than $3.5 million on it, including the purchase price and repairs.
Last summer, Pressley had a soft opening, where people paid reduced prices to ride up the chairlift and tour around the old park. After closing for the season in the fall, the repair work started on the mock-up of an Old West Town where the gunfights were once held, rewiring the park, fixing its water system and getting the kiddy rides operational.