fr ghosttownAfter attempting to revamp the mountaintop amusement park for several years, Alaska Presley has decided to sell Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley.

fr gtcrossA lofty vision to build a 220-foot cross on the mountaintop above Maggie Valley has been downwardly revised to 125 feet, but it could still run afoul of the state ridge law.

fr maggiecrossMaggie Valley leaders could land in the middle of a controversy in coming months about whether the owner of Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park should be allowed to build a giant cross on the ridgeline above Maggie Valley.

fr robertbradleyFour months after he was injured in a staged Old West gunshow, a former Ghost Town in the Sky gunfighter said he is waiting for someone to thoroughly investigate the incident, which he believes was foul play.

fr ghosttownGhost Town in the Sky opened last Wednesday — sort of.

The once-popular amusement park in Maggie Valley opened its chairlift and a new zipline just in time for the July 4 holiday and is offering rides on both attractions.

The new owner of Ghost Town in the Sky tied up the final loose ends related to her purchase of the bankrupt amusement park last week.

Alaska Presley officially took title to the rides and buildings on the grounds of the once-popular amusement park for $500,000, bringing the total cost of buying Ghost Town out of foreclosure to $2 million. She purchased the actual land in mid-February for $1.5 million.

The list of equipment and buildings in the sale includes Ghost Town’s rides, the A-frame souvenir shop and ticket booth at the bottom of the mountain and the structures that make up the mock Wild West town.

The inventory indicates that most of Ghost Town’s rides — such as a vintage WWII-era carousel, the kiddie coaster and Sky Fighter — are more than 40 years old and have dwelled inside the amusement park’s gates since its heyday. Despite their age, Presley previously stated that she will refurbish and restore the rides if possible.

Ghost Town has been closed for two years after going into bankruptcy, but Presley plans to reopen the park that once brought 400,000 visitors and prosperity to Maggie Valley. But, before it can even think about opening, “there is so much more to be done,” Presley said.

Presley has gotten electrical power restored to a portion of the park, including the old Wild West town, which is the main focus of Presley’s revitalization efforts right now and the portion that she hopes to open before the end of the tourist season this year.

Haywood EMC, the electrical power company that serves Ghost Town, turned off the power after being stiffed an unknown amount of money by the former owners. The company previously told Presley that it would restore electrical services to the mountain if she shelled out $30,000 up front given the track record of the past owners.

Presley has also figured out a new plan to solve ongoing woes with the park’s water system. Ghost Town is on the public water supply of Maggie Valley Sanitary District, but has battled with aging pipes and system to get the water up to the mountaintop theme park. Presley now plans to build two wells to provide water to the amusement park rather than trying to pump water up the mountain.

“It will be so much more economical,” Presley said.

Ghost Town in the Sky owner Alaska Presley has recruited singer and longtime friend Stella Parton to help her draw tourists to Maggie Valley.

Presley spoke to the town’s Board of Aldermen last week about the idea of hosting at least a couple of concert events this year in the parking lot of Ghost Town, an amusement park that was once kept the pace of the valley’s economic heartbeat. The park was closed for two years after going into bankruptcy. However, Presley has purchased the property and promised to restore it to its former glory.

Parton, sister of the famed Dolly Parton, was on hand to introduce herself to the new town leaders and speak a bit more about the possible event.

Although it is too late in the year to plan a Memorial Day event, Parton said she wants to host concert events, tentatively titled Pickin’ in the Parking Lot, around July 4th and Labor Day Weekend.

“It will be almost like a weekend festival,” Parton said.

Friday would feature bluegrass bands; Saturday would showcase country singers, including Parton herself; and Sunday would be reserved for gospel music. Each day would spotlight “local flavor as well as a headliner.”

Parton, who has roots in Haywood County, told the town aldermen and those in attendance that she is not an investor but simply someone who wants to help Presley and help the valley.

“We are going to bring people into the valley,” Presley said. “Ghost Town will go. I have no doubt.”

Presley also stated that she was grateful for the advice and kind words she has received from Maggie Valley residents since she purchased Ghost Town.

“This is the first time in so many years that I’ve seen the valley come together,” Presley said.

And, despite a couple snags in her plans, Presley is still confident that parts of Ghost Town will be open and running smoothly come summer. Topping the to-do list is getting the rides up and running, including a chairlift that takes tourists from the valley floor to the mountaintop theme park. If and when Ghost Town opens this year, the chair lift will be the sole mode of transportation up the mountain.

“The chair lift won’t take very much (to repair),” Presley said, estimating that it will cost about $30,000 to “perfect it.”

Although she originally thought that incline railway could be repaired by summer, Presley did not officially own the amusement park until the end of last month, which kept her from starting repairs earlier. When state inspectors came to tour Ghost Town a couple weeks ago, they advised Presley to hold off on the incline repairs until the end of tourism season this year, saying it would likely not be fully functional until late in the season.

By forgoing the incline repairs, Presley can focus more time on other important obstacles — such powering the mountain and fixing the water system.

After being stiffed an unknown amount of money by the previous owners, the electrical power company that serves Ghost Town said it would not restore electrical services to the mountain unless Presley shells out $30,000 before Aug. 1. And, after paying $20,000 for a new water pump to push the essential liquid up the steep mountain slopes, the municipal water district told Presley that her best opinion might be to dig wells, which could provide aqua to the amusement park.

On the sunny side, Presley is currently on the look out for someone to construct a zipline, one of several attractions she hopes to open this year.

Driving down Maggie Valley’s main drag, it’s hard not to notice the gauntlet of signs offering cheers of support for Ghost Town in the Sky’s new owner Alaska Presley.

Business owners on both sides of U.S. 19 have rearranged the lettering on their message boards to thank or bless Presley for vowing to reopen Ghost Town, an amusement park that symbolizes past prosperity in Maggie Valley.

“It makes me feel good,” Presley said of the encouraging notes.

Ghost Town has been closed for two years after going into bankruptcy but was purchased earlier this year by Presley who plans to reopen the park that once brought droves of visitors to Maggie Valley.

Weeds and other plant life have grown up around Ghost Town’s attractions, adding to its unkempt look. As she toured the park last week, Presley pointed out bushes and trees that would need to come down or be trimmed back and areas where brush must be cleared. Presley has already hired workers to tackle the greenery and is looking for contractors to make other necessary repairs.

With a listed population of 681, the mock Wild West Town sits at an altitude of 4,600 feet. While obviously a victim of harsh mountaintop weathering, vandals left the most apparent blemishes — broken windows, doors and doorframes, and residue from fire extinguishers — throughout the small fictional town.

“The buildings to me seemed in pretty good shape,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, adding that most of the work looked cosmetic.

Presley estimated that $2,500 worth of glass had been smashed but feels better now that she owns Ghost Town and can take action against any trespassers.

“Now, I can do something whereas before I didn’t have the authority,” Presley said.

Presley has dreamed of owning Ghost Town ever since its original owner put it up for sale 10 years ago. It was shuttered for three years, reopened under new owners for a couple of years, but then fell into bankruptcy and was once again closed. Presley rescued the park after striking a well-planned financial arrangement with BB&T. While BB&T was owed $9.5 million by the previous owners, Presley bought it last month for just $1.5 million.

But her work has only begun, as she embarks on a legacy project for the valley she loves: to restore the park to its former glory. The price tag is unknown, but she plans to tap her personal assets for the initial work.

Presley had previously remained quiet about some of her plans for Ghost Town’s revival but last week revealed her hopes to turn the highest of the park’s three levels into a religious-themed attraction.

The top level currently houses a concert hall, kiddy rides and Native American village. However, Presley plans to move the children’s rides to Ghost Town’s lowest level, where other rides currently reside, and get rid of the village.

In their place, Presley said she hopes to build large gold and white concert hall where people can hold religious events or performances. If her dream becomes a reality, the mountaintop would be crowned with statue of Jesus with a similar look to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Presley said.


A very long to-do list

For now, Presley is focused on getting Ghost Town’s core attractions up and running — fixing up the Old West town and getting the parks’ rides in working order — in hopes of a summer opening.

All the amusement rides, including the park’s signature roller coaster and its all-important chairlift that takes tourists up the mountain, must pass inspection with the N.C. Department of Labor. That had proved a hurdle for past owners, partly because of a strained relationship.

To get the ball rolling, Presley invited Cherie Berry, the state labor commissioner, to tour the amusement park last week along with Maggie Valley leaders and media.

During the tour of Ghost Town, Presley and Berry were “laughing, cutting up and holding hands,” Smith said. “That will be a really good working relationship.”

Representatives from the Department of Labor said they were not surprised by the appearance of the park. The equipment looked much like they thought it would, considering the weathering it has undergone during the past two years, said Tom Chambers, chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau at the Department of Labor.

State officials have not been asked to conduct comprehensive tests on Ghost Town attractions as of yet and therefore could not provide opinions on how much or what type of work the rides need. It is still up-in-the-air as to which rides still work.

“I don’t know what’s good and what’s not good,” Presley said.

No matter what, however, it is clear that Ghost Town still has its fans who will show up to visit the park when it opens. The Maggie Valley Chamber still receives messages everyday asking if Ghost Town is open.

Once Presley is able to fix transportation up the mountain, “I think people will be excited just to hear that the chairlift and incline are running,” Smith said.

As well as repairing the transit, however, Presley will need attractions that will draw all ages. One such addition would be a zipline, which Presley hopes to incorporate before opening.

A zipline would be “awesome,” Smith said. “The thrill lovers would love it.”

Longtime Maggie Valley resident Alaska Presley has seen it all when it comes to Ghost Town in the Sky’s ups and downs.

Presley, now 88, and her late husband Hugh met R.B. Coburn, founder of Ghost Town, more than 50 years ago when he walked into a hotel that the couple owned in Maggie Valley and told them about his plans. It was the beginning of Presley’s connection to and love for the amusement park, which has spanned nearly two-thirds of her life.

Now, Presley is putting her own personal wealth on the line to rescue the shuttered theme park, and hopefully bring back the missing lynchpin in the Maggie tourism trade.

SEE ALSO: Resurrecting a ghost town

Presley knows first hand how important Ghost Town was historically in driving tourist traffic in Maggie. Presley, along with her family, has owned and sold a number of Maggie businesses throughout the years, including Mountain Valley Lodge, Holiday Motel and a trout fishing operation.

Ghost Town enjoyed decades of prosperity after R.B. Colburn conceived of the idea more than half a century ago. As a result, the town of Maggie Valley grew up around it, a string of mom-and-pop motels, diners and shops catering to the 150,000 tourists that once streamed into Maggie to visit the park.

However, the park began a long and steady decline in the 1990s. It began to show its age around the edges and was not well-maintained. The attractions grew dated, yet Coburn failed to add new amenities to cater to the changing tastes of modern tourists.

Ghost Town’s eventual closure in 2002 dealt a major blow to Maggie Valley’s economy, which continued to decline.

When a group of investors appeared and reopened the park four years later, they were seen as saviors. Business owners and leaders were willingly to help in anyway that they could as long as it meant that Ghost Town, once a economic boon for the town, would return for good. Businesses provided supplies on credit, from electricians and plumbers making repairs to hard goods purchased from oil companies to building supply stores — all under the assumption Ghost Town was a good cause.  Meanwhile, Maggie residents, including Presley, loaned money to the new owners in exchange for shares in the company.

However, the park fell into debt and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. The park opened and closed several times as the owners struggled to get out of debt. But in the end, the park left a trail of $2.5 million in unpaid debt to small businesses and hundreds of thousands lost by helpful investors.

BB&T — which was owed $10 million by the new owners for the park’s purchase and later renovations  — filed for foreclosure. Eighteen months later, the foreclosure was finalized, and Alaska Presley placed her bid to buy Ghost Town.

Tears gathered in Alaska Presley’s eyes as she moved one step closer to attaining a Maggie Valley icon that has remained close to her heart but out of her possession for more than 50 years.

Surrounded by supporters, former Ghost Town employees and her lawyer, Presley, a longtime Maggie Valley resident, listened as a foreclosure attorney dryly recited the property boundaries of Ghost Town in the Sky, a once-popular amusement park in Maggie Valley. Presley was one of about 20 people who attended the public auction of Ghost Town on Feb. 10 outside the Haywood County Courthouse.

She is the only person who bid on the property at auction, offered $2.5 million for the property and its equipment. Competing buyers can file an upset bid for 10 days. Presley is now counting down the days until Feb. 20 to see if anyone places a counterbid.

Presley, 88, hopes to leave a functioning and profitable Ghost Town as her legacy to Maggie Valley.

SEE ALSO: Has Maggie found its heroine?

“Maggie Valley has some of the best people in the world,” she said. “And without Ghost Town, they have been having a very, very hard time.”

When the amusement park finally went up for sale, Presley just had to buy it. She said that a forever closed and abandoned Ghost Town is her “greatest fear.”

“Maggie Valley needs it,” Presley said. “I’m most interested in getting it going for the prosperity of Haywood County.”

However, Maggie residents are no longer quick to pin their hopes on the reopening of an amusement park that has been a continual cause for disappointment during the past decade.


Driven by her heart

Acquiring Ghost Town has been a long process and restoring the amusement park to its original glory will be a struggle all its own, which is why Presley began renovating it months before the foreclosure was finalized.

“This is the third time I’ve tried to help bring it back,” she said.

The to-do list is phenomenal. The rides and mock Old West town are decades old and in continual need of repair and upkeep, let alone the neglect they’ve seen since the park shut down three years ago.

Presley has already started touching up the buildings, which are quick to show their wear given the beating they take from the elements on the high-elevation mountain top.

Although she has made a few strides, there is still a lot of work to do and not much time to complete it before June, when she hopes to open at least a portion of the park.

“It has taken so long (to foreclose),” Presley said. “It’s kind of up in the air how much I can get done before the season.”

But, she does have a plan. Presley’s top priority is getting the chair lift and the incline railway working again. Tourists can only reach the mountaintop amusement park by the riding one of the two contraptions up the steep slope — but they have been in a seemingly perpetual state of malfunction in recent years.

Visitors would park in a large lot at the bottom of the mountain and ride either the lift or railway up to the park’s entrance. Neither are currently operational.

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.

She must also assess the condition of the rides, particularly the roller coaster and drop tower.

“What’s good I’ll keep; what’s good I’ll refurbish,” she said, adding that she has yet to have anyone evaluate them, and some may not be repairable.

In the past, rides did not receive the proper care and maintenance. They looked rundown and often broke down. When Ghost Town briefly reopened five years ago, the kiddy rides and Wild West Town were up and running, but the roller coaster and drop tower — which attracted a more adult crowd — failed to pass state inspections. Although the previous owners attempted to repair the coaster, it only opened temporarily before it was once again deemed a safety hazard.

Next to the rides and cosmetic improvements, one of the biggest projects associated with the renovation is a overhauling of its water system. The previous owners did not shut off the water to Ghost Town after it closed, subjecting the full pipes to the mountain freeze-and-thaw cycle. The already aging system is now likely in desperate need of repair.

“That will be one of the worst things to do,” Presley said.

If she can overcome those hurdles and open Ghost Town for part of the tourist season, Presley can start earning revenue and hopefully move the park toward self-sustainability.


Bittersweet turn of events

People are cautiously optimistic about Presley’s endeavor.

“Only an Alaska Presley could ever get Ghost Town to run again,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said. “She is a very sharp lady; she sees value there.  (But) In today’s market, in today’s world, I don’t see any value there.”

While people disagree about what, if anything, the amusement park is worth, Presley’s long history with Ghost Town and her wherewithal seem undisputable.

“If anybody can do it, she can do it,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “I think she will definitely do the very best she can to get it up and running.”

Although the park has been closed for more than a year, the chamber still receives phone calls everyday asking if and when Ghost Town will reopen — an encouraging sign that if it is rebuilt, people will come.

“It encourages families to come here,” Smith said. “It would just be something else for people to do.”

But, the economy is still struggling, and gas prices continue to bounce up and down. Both are problems that have affected Ghost Town’s visitation numbers in the past and could influence its bottom line in the future as well.

“I think this go around those same worries are going to be there,” Smith said.

Town Alderman Phil Aldridge, who attended Friday’s event, said that residents are weary of anyone championing Ghost Town’s potential success after so many years of disappointments. Maggie Valley residents and business owners have had their hopes dashed before when investors promised to revive Ghost Town and bringing prosperity back to the valley.

But still, Aldridge leans toward the hopeful point of view.

Ghost Town was the “heartbeat” of Maggie Valley, he said. “It certainly can be again.”

When the amusement park profited, so did the town and county. In its heyday, 400,000 people visited Ghost Town each year, and families would pack into restaurants and motels along Maggie Valley’s main strip. Since the beginning of the recession and the park’s first closure in 2002, however, business in the valley has drastically declined.


Clock ticking

If Presley can’t open the park this season, it would cause “more damage,” she said. An open park means money to help cover upkeep and the employee payroll. It could also eventually mean more improvements — something already weighing on Presley’s mind.

“It needs to have some high-tech stuff,” she said, throwing out the idea of adding a zip line.

And, while some little boys still play cowboys and Indians, the Wild West theme has lost some of its luster now that the golden years of John Wayne and “Bonanza” are over.

“The western theme is passé now, and it needs the help,” Presley said. “The gun fights are good, but they are not enough.”

Although Presley was unable to provide more specifics regarding improvements, she estimated that the entire project will cost in excess of $11 million. And, she said she is not planning to take out any loans, adding that Ghost Town has had enough debt problems.

“Poor management and bad debts has plagued it for years,” Presley said. “A friend thought there was demons on that mountain; it has had such bad luck.”

So, for now, she will foot the bill herself.

“I have enough — to get started anyway,” Presley said. “I believe in paying as you go.”

Presley said she did not know how many employees she will need to reopen and operate the amusement park, but she has already hired Robert Bradley, a former gunfighter in the Wild West Town, to help with renovations and an armed guard to keep hoodlums off the property.

“It’s been vandalized pretty bad, but I got guards up there now, and I’ve got cameras all over the mountain,” Presley said.

Like Presley, Bradley has been around since Ghost Town beginnings.

“I started fallin’ off the roof in 1962,” he said, adding that Presley made him promise not to fall anymore now that he has passed 65.

Bradley, who has known Presley for most of his 67 years, is happy to help and anxious to get back to work as director of entertainment — his previously held title.

“I could probably put a show on next week,” Bradley said.

“Give us two hours,” chimed in Tim Gardner, a.k.a. Marshall Red Dawg.

While Ghost Town has been shut down, Bradley and some of the old band of entertainers from the Wild West Town have traveled around the U.S. doing shows. People are still interested in seeing their performances, he said.


What is Ghost Town worth?

During Friday’s foreclosure proceeding, Presley bid $2.5 million for Ghost Town. But, that is not what she will actually pay for the property.

The actual price tag is only $1.5 million, thanks to an interesting and non-traditional financing arrangement Presley struck to bail Ghost Town out of foreclosure.

When Ghost Town’s previous owners went bankrupt, BB&T was their biggest creditor — holding $10.5 million in debt.

BB&T chased Ghost Town into bankruptcy and to the doorstep of foreclosure. But for the past 18 months, it hasn’t pulled the trigger on foreclosure — likely because it knew that the beleaguered park would fetch nowhere near what the bank was owed. The idea that anyone would pay anything close to $10 million for the dilapidated and broken down amusement park is inconceivable.

“Who is going to pay $10 million for Ghost Town? Well, nobody is,” said Waynesville Mayor and lawyer Gavin Brown.

Instead of going forward with the foreclosure, BB&T sold its note to Presley for $1.5 million — a far cry less than the $10.5 million the bank is owed.

“What they (did) is just cut their losses and run,” Brown said.

When Presley purchased the note, she all but ensured that Ghost Town would be hers. Presley now owns BB&T’s entire $10.5 million note against Ghost Town — even though she only paid $1.5 million for control of the note. Someone would have to bid more than $10.5 million before they could top what she has in it.

The foreclosure is a mere formality, as was the $2.5 million Presley bid for the park. In essence, her $2.5 million bid will come back to her since she is the primary note holder.

So, not counting the court fees and related costs, how much did Presley pay for Ghost Town?

The simple answer is $1.5 million — the amount BB&T sold its note for, Presley said.

Other possible investors have until Feb. 20 to place an upset bid. However, John Doe cannot simply walk off the street and offer a few cents more than Presley’s current bid for Ghost Town. Upset bids must be at least 5 percent higher and bidders must put down a percentage of their bid up front.

As for the millions owed to private investors and small businesses by Ghost Town’s former owners? They won’t be seeing a dime.

Go to top