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Wednesday, 23 May 2007 00:00

History of Ghost Town in the Sky

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Businessman R. B. Coburn, who was inspired to build a park with a western theme after visiting several ghost towns in the American West, conceived Ghost Town in the Sky.

In 1960, Coburn purchased Buck Mountain in Maggie Valley at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains for the sight of his theme park. Construction began in September of 1960. Over two hundred locals were hired to construct the 40 replica buildings that comprised the Western Town, which is located at the Mountain’s peak. About 120,000 square feet of building space makes up the town, which was completed in May 1961. Approximately 300,000 feet of lumber, 200,000 feet of plywood, and 20,000 pounds of nails went into the construction of Ghost Town.

A double incline railway was also constructed to bring its passengers to the top of Buck Mountain, located more than 3,300 feet up the mountainside. The incline was created with a 25-ton bulldozer attached to a winch secured to another bulldozer, which pulled the bulldozer up the mountain. This impressive feat created an exciting ride to the top of Buck Mountain. The incline carries 48 passengers up and down with varying grades of 30 to 77 percent.

The park opened to the public in June 1961, and since then new rides and attractions have been added throughout the years. Added in the spring of 1962, was the two-seat chairlift, which operates parallel to the Incline Railway. This chairlift is the longest in North Carolina and second longest in the United States. It moves at the rate of 310 feet per minute and scales a 3,370 feet course. Ghost Town has attracted millions of guests throughout the country, with its attendance peaking well over 400,000 visitors annually in the early 1970s. Ghost Town closed its doors in 2003 after 41 years of successful operation. Coburn sold the property to its new owners in August 2006.

Ghost Town’s new owners will operate under Ghost Town Partners LLC. Officers are Allen and Carol Harper, owners of the Bryson City-based Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado. Hank Woodburn of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., founder and president of Adventure Landing, which owns and operates nine family entertainment centers in New York (3), Texas (1), Florida (2), and North Carolina (3); and venture capitalist Peter Hairston of Miami.

The Harpers have extensive experience in amusements, scenic railroads and real estate development. Their railroads are among the nation’s top five scenic railroads in ridership.

Woodburn has over 30 years of experience developing, owning and operating award winning family amusement properties, including a Water Park. Recently, the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions named Adventure Landing properties a winner of the Top Family Entertainment Centers of the World award.

Hairston has been a principal investor in amusement, travel and leisure companies for many years with an extensive background in corporate finance.

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