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.
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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.