During the 1970s and 80s, Ghost Town was a boom, bringing tens of thousands of tourists to the valley, but the next decade brought a decline in both attendance and the maintenance of the park. It eventually closed in 2002, briefly reopened under new ownership, only to shut down again.
Earlier this year, Maggie resident Alaska Presley bought the park out of bankruptcy and has been slowly trying to revive it herself.
It has been more than a decade since the park first closed, but some Maggie Valley residents still view Ghost Town as a bright saving light.
Others have become wary of the open-close-open-close pattern of the amusement park during the last decade and don’t want to pin the prosperity of the valley on that one attraction.
Both Alderman Saralyn Price and Mayor Ron DeSimone said the valley should not limit itself to being simply the home of Ghost Town.
“You can’t tie it to one thing,” DeSimone said. “No one thing is going to define Maggie Valley.”
Part of the problem is that Maggie has no clear identity. Almost as a default, the valley has been labeled a second home and retirement community, which does not sit well with some who still pine for the happening, youthful tourist town it once was.
Trying to fill the void left by Ghost Town’s decline, Maggie Valley has become known for its yearly line-up of motorcycle festivals. They draw thousand of bike enthusiasts who, in turn, spend thousands of dollars in nearby establishments.
But, Maggie Valley is not just motorcycles or Ghost Town, DeSimone said. “I think they should be part of the plan, but they should not be the plan,” he said.
Although Alderman Mike Matthews indicated his support for the amusement park, he said it still has a long way to go.
“I think Ghost Town is going great,” Matthews said. But, “We can’t count on Ghost Town be the savior of Maggie Valley.”
Another alderman said he was unhappy with what he viewed as DeSimone’s disparaging remarks about the amusement park.
“It’s a shame that the mayor keeps running it down,” said Alderman Phillip Wight. “We’ve got a golden gem on the mountain.”
DeSimone countered that he is not anti-Ghost Town.
“I am certainly supportive of Ghost Town, and every other business in the valley,” DeSimone said. DeSimone had simply questioned whether Ghost Town was the solution to all the valley’s economic woes.
Although Presley has not specifically asked the town for anything, she said, she has not felt much support from town leaders.
“I have not had that much cooperation from them, but I have not asked for anything,” she said. “I wish they would get behind me and help me.”
Presley said she wants to do a lot herself but admitted, “It’s a hard road.”
As for other business owners, many are eager to voice their support for Ghost Town.
“I think Ghost Town is going to be a success,” said Richard Boris, owner of Maggie Country Store. “There are so many people who love Ghost Town.”
Boris agreed that the valley cannot simply rely on the amusement park to attract tourists. However, he said he doesn’t know what else there is. Ghost Town once drew hundreds of thousands of people to the valley during these years.
“You never put all your eggs in one basket, (but) at this point, we don’t have anything else to hang our hats on,” Boris said. “What else?”
Boris said he did not necessarily think that the town should offer Ghost Town financial aid because it could set a bad precedent. However, he said he personally would be willing to volunteer some time helping with clean up or other needs before his own store and campground opened for the season.
Other business owners said anything that entices people to come to Maggie Valley and spend money is positive.
“Anything that draws people is going to be good,” said Bari Lynn Weinstein, owner of Hillbilly Grocery. “I think if she can do it then great.”
Raising its head
Diverging opinions among aldermen came to light as part of a separate debate over who should fill an empty seat on the town board. Aldermen are currently locked in a stalemate over who to pick.
One candidate, Steve Hurley, stated during his interview for the post that Ghost Town was the key to bringing Maggie back. He added the town had not done enough to support the latest owner’s attempt to bring it back.
Last week, DeSimone and Price cited Hurley’s stance on Ghost Town one of the reasons they disagree with appointing Hurley.
“I think people should stand together and say, ‘OK, Alaska, what do you need now?’” Hurley said. “They have to get together and help this lady. She stuck her neck out.”
Hurley, owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining and Rhum Bar, is planning a benefit for Ghost Town in late October and said the town could orchestra a similar fundraising event to help Presley out.
Hurley then echoed the sentiments of fellow business owner Boris, saying that the valley does not currently have any other baskets to put eggs into.
“We have to take a chance on putting everything in Alaska’s basket,” Hurley said. “We are no worse off than we were if the basket breaks.”
Matthews has defended Hurley’s comments and has continued to champion him as a good addition to the town board.