The ball is already rolling on repairs to the rides at the once-popular Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley, but a summer opening could hinge on the park passing muster with state inspectors.
New owner Alaska Presley, a businesswoman and longtime Maggie resident, will meet with officials from the N.C. Department of Labor and town officials this week to discuss necessary repairs and improvements planned for the shuttered amusement park.
The Department of Labor and the previous owners had a contentious relationship as multiple devices failed multiple inspections on multiple occasions. Lack of communication by the former owner with state inspectors was part of the problem — one Presley intends to avoid now that she is at the helm.
The Department of Labor will be able to give Presley a better idea of what needs to be accomplished before she can open the park.
Ghost Town fell into bankruptcy about four years ago and ultimately ended up on the courthouse steps in mid-February this year. That is where Presley, a nearly lifelong Ghost Town supporter, purchased the park. She hopes to restore it to its former glory as well as add new attractions with modern appeal.
Presley said she hopes to open a portion of Ghost Town by the middle of summer. However, renovations and improvements will take at least three years, she said.
Presley would not name which rides she wants to fix up prior to her summer goals, saying she did not want to make any promises she couldn’t keep.
“I’m taking my time because I want it to be done properly,” she said.
Presley said she did not know which rides will need work, nor how much.
“At the time they closed, the rides were OK,” she said. “They look OK, but I just don’t want to take a chance on them.”
Instead, she will depend on ride inspectors with the Department of Labor to help point her in a positive direction.
The preliminary meeting this week is just about “goodwill and to be sure that I am on the right track and that I’m not doing anything that doesn’t need to be done,” Presley said.
For the Department of Labor, the appointment is a chance to get off on the right foot with Ghost Town’s new owner.
“(It’s) an opportunity to proactively assess the equipment,” said Tom Chambers, chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau at the Department of Labor.
Chambers is unsure exactly what to expect when he inspects the park, but said the rides were most definitely subject to wear and tear related to the weather, which could include corrosion to both the appearance and integrity of the equipment.
“A lot of time has lapsed between the last time we looked at this equipment and now,” he said.
The park has been closed since 2009. Its high-elevation mountaintop setting makes the rides and equipment particularly vulnerable to weathering.
The department inspects between 6,000 and 7,000 rides each year. Every ride in the state must undergo rigorous testing and be re-certified every season.
“We find problems with every device that we see,” Chambers said.
Not only does the department inspect rides, but it can also provide names of quality contractors who could complete specific tasks.
“We want her to be successful,” Chambers said.
Presley has already hired a company to trim the trees and tame the other plant life that has grown up in and around the park while it was stalled in bankruptcy and foreclosure.
“They got the (Wild West) town cleaned,” Presley said. “It’s just perfected.”
Within the next couple weeks, she also hopes to put out bids for plumbing repairs. The former owner did not shut off water to the park, resulting in burst pipes during the winter’s harsh freeze-thaw cycle.
A way up the mountain
Because Ghost Town is perched atop a steep mountain with no public road access, the only ways for visitors to access the park is by riding up in a chairlift or a cablecar known as the “incline railway.” Neither have been in working order, and both are key to the success or failure of Ghost Town.
Without them, visitors have to be shuttled up the mountain from a park-and-ride lot in school buses.
Presley is hunting for a contractor to begin repairing the incline railway, which transports visitors up the mountain to Ghost Town. She has already purchased the parts needed to repair the incline railway, but it will still be about five months before it’s fixed, she said.
And, what about the lift — the only other way to ascend the mountain slope?
To the best of her knowledge, “the lift is fine. It just needs to go through all the testing,” Presley said.
A couple town leaders attended an informal, private meeting with Presley last week to let her know that the town is behind her.
“We certainly will help anyway we can,” said Audrey Hager, the town’s festival director, during a phone interview. “We can’t speak to monetary or advertising.”
The town has already pitched in by helping facilitate the initial meeting between Presley and Department of Labor officials, who are required to inspect the park before it reopens.
“They have a lot of insight on what they (Ghost Town’s previous owners) did wrong in the past,” Hager said.
The roller coaster in particular had its ups and downs. After the amusement park filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, the owners still tried to open it for the season, hoping to earn some money to help pay off its debt. However, on the opening weekend, neither the roller coaster nor the drop tower were running after failing to meet state standards.
Later that year, the roller coaster opened for a single day before it broke down once again.